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11/17/2021

Pharmacy teams and the lesson of the chain

A few weeks ago, I shared the lesson of the rubber band. The rubber band teaches us that we need some tension in our lives to do and be our best. There is also a lesson we can learn from the chain. The Law of the Chain is one of several Laws of Teamwork and states that a chain (a team) is only as strong as its weakest link (team member). 

I grew up on a farm and for us, it was a common occurrence to be chaining something to a tractor to move it. If you saw some of the chains we used, you would notice that a couple were missing the hook on one end. These were situations where the chain had previously broken because there was a weak link. 

So, while we need the tension of the rubber band to get the best out of us, we must balance this with the understanding that too much tension to a weak link can be disastrous!

As leaders, how can you identify a weak link? Sometimes, it is obvious. In fact, sometimes it is too obvious! You can see someone completely overwhelmed and struggling.

In situations like this, a couple things come quickly to mind. First, talk with this person.  You've probably heard the old expression that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is especially true for us as leaders. Our teams need to know that you have their back. After all, you are all in this together. The second step is very much a management technique to make sure you have everyone on your team playing in the best positions. I cannot begin to put a number on the situations where I have had techs only want to count prescriptions or only wait on patients. By taking a few minutes to have conversations and set expectations, you can eliminate problems before they happen.

The question you are probably asking is: how do I identify a link in the chain that is weakening?

Are there early warning signals? 

There are likely many signals. The one that sticks out to me is when a member of the team withdraws. What I mean by withdraw is that there is a noticeable reduction in this person’s participation on the team. In many instances, this person simply becomes quieter. A warning signal. 

Many things can cause this to happen, and not all are work-related. Problems at home can impact someone’s performance at work. Consider the member of your team with a new baby at home. The changes at home are still normalizing and at the same time a lack of sleep is affecting performance. 

Or perhaps, someone just got a bad health report. An unwanted diagnosis. That can have an impact.

Often, the issue is work-related. Conflict with a coworker, conflict with a patient, or even a previous performance issue can have a negative effect on a team member and cause that person to withdraw.

This is where leadership is needed all the more. We need to be able to either lead a withdrawn team member back onto the team, or we need to lead them away from the team on the appropriate terms. 

I wish I could tell you I have never heard of a team member who quit out of the blue.  What might appear out of the blue to you is in all likelihood not out of the blue to that team member. 

When I used to hear stories like this, I thought the issue was with the team member. However, after witnessing the same thing happening to the same team on more than one occasion, I came to understand that this is an issue with the leader! A leader who is completely blindsided by team members who will no longer work shows me the leader was not really leading those team members.

This can be difficult, especially if something like this has happened to you. But it can also be helpful. Helpful because it clearly points us in a direction to improve our leadership. Remember, we can improve our leadership skills and when we improve our skills, everyone around us benefits: our patients, our team, our family, our friends –everybody.

So, pay careful attention to the links in your chain and be alert to changes you observe.  When team members withdraw, something is going on. Keeping your team members engaged can help identify problems and solutions to help lead them through challenging times and potential burnout situations.

Until next time -

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn

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