Looking After Your Team Case Study: Dr K – GP Partner

Role and Context

Dr K is a GP Partner in a large, busy practice which is comprised of several staff teams. Dr K likened the working of the practice to a ‘big jigsaw’ where ‘it doesn’t matter whether you are central or peripheral to that jigsaw, the puzzle isn’t complete if all the bits are not working together.’ 

They viewed their role as a GP Partner as being to make sure that the practice remained viable, ensuring that practice staff are doing their jobs properly and safely, and offering support to practice staff. Dr K had specific responsibility for the nursing team (there were five nurses in the practice), who were particularly busy as they were involved in the Covid-19 vaccinations.

Challenge of Covid-19 on the team

Dr K defined the last year and a half as ‘a stressful period’ with patients, practice staff and their family members all very fearful of contracting Covid. The changes to the delivery of patient care meant staff felt like they were having to consult in ‘foreign territory’ and having to social distance in the practice meant that support structures and traditional opportunities for social interactions were limited. Dr K felt that trying to enforce the safety guidelines whilst maintaining staff and team morale was very difficult to balance.

“I just felt like I was forever nagging the nurses about the number of people that could be in a room… I was trying to keep them safe, but I was also taking away their support structure.”

The practice was busy, experiencing high levels of patient demand. Although it was thought that teams were adapting well, there was clear pressure for all staff, and there was the perception that wellbeing amongst practice teams was reducing. Some staff had to shield and there were periods where staff were self-isolating which meant that the remaining staff were doing more work, with fewer people.

“There was just that sense that everybody you spoke to, there was always something negative being said… everybody at all levels of the practice has been affected.”

Dr K’s own wellbeing was also affected - they felt they were struggling to switch off, and that there was a ‘pressure cooker of emotions”. As the Covid pandemic continued, they had noticed that relationships in the practice were changing, and they were struggling to manage this correctly, and believed that the Looking After Your Team coaching could help.

“We were all just having a tough time, and I just got to a stage where I thought, ‘could we please just stop battering each other’”.

How accessing the Looking After Your Team coaching helped

Dr K decided to approach the coaching service to understand how they could support their nursing team more proactively. 

“To be a good leader for my team, I need to be a good leader for myself. I couldn’t be a good leader until I felt better about how I was acting myself.”

In practice meetings, Dr K had noticed that issues were often articulated negatively or were not being properly addressed which added to further frustrations. Dr K wanted help from the coach about how to approach these team meetings, especially when there were difficult interactions. 

One of the techniques that the coach provided was based around ‘reflective listening’. For Dr K this meant that in difficult situations it was important to acknowledge the points raised by others and how they felt about what was occurring. In response to this, it was important to recognise these points going forward but also provide an explanation about why changes were being made in a way that had shown other staff considerations had been included.

“It was about being able to show I could lead but also support the team… to allow for their experiences to be shared…”

Dr K was also given a framework through which team meetings could be better managed, which they now have attached to their computer, so it is there as a constant reminder. The framework involves clear planning and preparation for team meetings, including developing an agenda, finding ways to clearly articulate what was to be discussed, and ‘framing’ issues with regards to how to solve problems rather than ruminating on what wasn’t working and not progressing.

“The plan for meetings was looking to say how changes should be achieved instead of bringing negative things to the table and setting things out in a more positive mindset. It has really turned around clinical meetings. The essence of what they are saying is the same, but there is a big difference in how things are being said.”

Team impact of the coaching

At the time of the interview Dr K had only had one coaching session but had already seen a positive impact on team relationships. Allowing time for reflection and clearly showing that their team’s feelings and ‘voices’ had been heard meant that ‘there has been more of a feeling of harmony recently’. Team meetings had been more positive as there was a conscious effort by all to think about how messages were being communicated.

“It has helped me be more proactive about supporting my nurse team and has made me think about how important it is to support the team. The coaching has made me think about what makes people tick, and what makes them happy.”

Dr K had also introduced these techniques in other meetings undertaken in the practice, and had found that less time was being wasted, staff members were more aware of how they frame their argument clearly, and conversations were moving towards improving outcomes.

“If they see you as a more positive team member, the team begin to feel better as well. If you work better as a team, you feel stronger as a team, and you all begin to feel better, but you do need the support of the team to do that.”