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The #1 Reason Teams Succeed

052014-tow1I pulled into the crunchy gravel lot of the church that was the site of our project for the day.

I showed up to participate in an effort called Go Cincinnati in which 8,000 people serve our city by volunteering for one of 450 projects (involving parks, schools, community centers, churches and more) for 4 hours on one Saturday every May. In one morning we collectively transform our city and ourselves in the process.

The church is owned by two generous and visionary people that serve the surrounding area. Once the inside is finished, it will open its doors to many people in this neighborhood – a neighborhood I wouldn’t know much about if not for this day.

Several people filed into the church basement, which is where all the action occurred. I knew a handful of the volunteers well, including my husband (who arrived at least an hour early because he loves a good project), my brother, who led our group and a few other good friends. But mostly, my fellow volunteers were complete strangers.

So the question becomes: How can this eclectic group of people quickly become a successful team?

And then there’s this – we hung drywall for 4 hours. So yea, not in my wheelhouse of skill. And I wasn’t alone in that. One of the women on my smaller team is a nurse, so we felt like fish out of water.

What happened next: Somehow, it worked. People chose tasks they could contribute to and the teams got into a rhythm. It was completely imperfect. The process was sometimes hilarious. And the results were great.


Not because we all knew how to measure, cut and hang drywall to be sure. (Thankfully a handful of volunteers did have some serious skill.) Not because we were a well-established team, aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Not because we had ample time to experiment and learn from our mistakes.

The reason we completed our project that crisp Saturday morning is the #1 reason any great team succeeds: we shared a common purpose and vision.

We knew exactly what had to be done and in what time frame it had to be completed. We came ready to work toward that goal. The vision superseded our individual shortcomings and lack of experience. We wanted to complete the project for this neighborhood because we share a city with its people. And this is how change happens – one purposeful chunk at a time.

It made me wonder if we share a common vision and purpose for the NICU. Of course it’s to save the lives of neonates. But it’s really more than that, no?

Isn’t it also to help infants and parents bond during this critical period? Isn’t it to help infants thrive as well as survive? Isn’t it to use our skill, knowledge and teamwork to support generations of infants and families through this stressful, traumatic time? We could go on and on right?

One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that although hospitals certainly have vision and mission statements, sometimes individual units do not. Does your NICU have its own vision statement?

Because here’s the thing: it changes the outcome.

When everyone is clear about the end result, the deeper meaning, the bigger purpose, amazing things happen. In 4 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours and over decades. We can clock in and out or we can know why we’re showing up. Huge difference. Both personally, and in the way in which we care for infants and families. It gives us a powerful reason to continue this work even on the hardest of days.

Maybe your NICU has vision and mission statements already. Consider posting them where parents can see them. Or revisit them to make sure they represent THE common vision of the staff.

This is important stuff. In one city on one morning each year. And in thousands of NICUs in thousands of cities worldwide every day.

Consider the impact.