What Leading A Cardiac Arrest Team Taught Me About Team Work

Ventricular Fibrillation (VF)

Ventricular Fibrillation (VF) (Photo credit: Popfossa)

As a very young doctor, fresh out of medical school, I led the hospital cardiac arrest team. Yep, that is right. I made life or death decisions; treating patients whose hearts had effectively stopped. It was utterly terrifying, and when we saved a life, wonderful and miraculous.

The really cool thing about cardiac arrest teams is that they function as an effective team from the moment that team members arrive in the room; even though they often have never worked together before.

Decisions get made quickly and are acted on immediately.  And sometimes, as a result of those decisions, people are brought back from the dead. It is wonderful.

Why do cardiac arrest teams work so well together?

Because they are well set up.

The purpose of the team is very clear and everyone agrees what that purpose is.

Everyone in the team understands who is responsible for what. They know who will do which action. They know which decisions each team members makes individually; which they will make in consultation with others and which decisions the whole team will make by consensus.

If one member of the team is unable to respond to the ‘Cardiac Arrest on Ward A1‘ call, there is a clear agreed way of sharing out the work, so that it all gets done. Team members don’t have to waste time renegotiating responsibilities.

The situation itself also helps the team to work well together. There is immediate feedback. The doctor takes an action and can see the result within seconds. Either the patient’s heart rhythm improves or it doesn’t.

These characteristics are important in building effective cooperative effort:

If you want your team to be more effective, pause for a moment. Have you set your team up to work well together? How is the situation influencing their behaviour?

About Rachel Collis

Rachel gained 15 years experience as a psychiatrist before moving into management consulting in 2001. She now lectures on the Executive MBA program at QUT and provides executive coaching, facilitation and workshops to organisations around Australia. To learn more, visit - http://rachelcollis.com.au/
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2 Responses to What Leading A Cardiac Arrest Team Taught Me About Team Work

  1. Rachel,
    I appreciate your article and what it can represent to those in a position to pay attention. I came into my current line of work (banking) from an airline as a pilot. At the airline, we had a similar breakdown of responsibilities for each situation (normal and abnormal) we may encounter. We were required to pay very close attention during training to develop our crew resource management so we could, in a worst case scenario, potentially make the un-surviveable, surviveable. We would fly by the book for safety and consistency. Every time. Because, in short, lives (yes, even ours) depended on it. This is important because in a work environment where that isn’t the case (a life on the line), folks seem to let so much opportunity for true teamwork pass in order to further themselves. The work and the workers suffer in those cases. I also believe the product then suffers too. I’m a big proponent of “team building” at any place of work. But it seems like the prevailing culture is for self promotion rather than long term viability (as long as its not life threatening). At any rate, thanks for the article. All we need to do is pay attention.

    • That is so interesting that you had a similar experience in aircraft crews. I agree that people and outcomes suffer when team members don’t work well together, particularly when there is a competitive self-interested culture. I also have a feeling that a lot of ‘team building’ focusses on the wrong thing – trying to get people to like each other rather than to agree on clear structures that will make collaboration work.

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