Team-Tested Practices

How to Sponsor Success

Alan Johnson

Three tips for leading effective unit-based teams

Unit-based teams are Kaiser Permanente’s strategy for performance improvement, and I’ve seen firsthand the difference they can make to our operations. Nine of our medical center’s 17 departments now are working as UBTs and getting results. But it didn’t happen overnight.

As with any meaningful change, you have to learn and adapt as you go. Along the way, I found three things UBT leaders and sponsors can do to help their teams succeed: create excitement, learn from the front line and walk the talk.

1. Create excitement

The first step to engage others in UBTs is to get engaged yourself. For some people that might require a leap of faith. But if leaders are genuinely jazzed, their enthusiasm will be infectious. 

When a team is engaged and starts seeing results, the real thrill begins. That’s something I saw in our Southwood lab team: Once they came up with a successful plan to reduce the number of uncollected urine specimens, they went on to tackle the collection of blood samples. Our patients benefited, and the team gained experience and confidence in leading change.

Success self-replicates. I don’t tell teams, “Here’s an issue.” They identify an issue consistent with department or regional goals, and they find a way forward. Now that’s exciting.

At the same time, it’s important for teams to focus on concrete issues that (a) will make day-to-day operations better and (b) they believe they can resolve. As a sponsor, I can help them define such issues, but the team owns the issue and the results. Then teams need to move on to the next issue. Our approach has been: Identify an issue, work on it, press through, anticipate improvements and watch the momentum build!

2. Learn from the front line

I’ve learned a lot about Southwood from our nine UBTs. As a manager, I have a bird’s eye view of all of our operations, but I benefit from the perspectives of frontline employees who have day-to-day contact with members and know where the opportunities are. More importantly, they know what will—and what won’t—work to resolve an issue.

You have to have the people who touch members most often be part of and implement change. That gets you something that no leader can get alone: the buy-in of the people who actually do the work.

It means leaders and managers have to become comfortable allowing others to come up with solutions.

3. Walk the talk

The most important thing leaders can do is model the behavior they expect from team members. Our facility UBT uses a “tri-chair” model:  shop steward, managing physician and medical office manager. Our team works collaboratively to send a clear message that partnership works and is effective.  For me, that kind of partnership has become a way of life and has made us a stronger medical office.



16 people found this helpful. Was it helpful to you? YesNo