American Association for Physician Leadership

Team Building and Teamwork

To Reduce Burnout on Your Team, Give People a Sense of Control

Andrew D. Wittman

June 27, 2018


A set of agreements, forming a team charter, holds everyone accountable — manager and employee.

A set of agreements, forming a team charter, holds everyone accountable — manager and employee.

There’s no question that workplace stress has reached critical levels. The American Institute of Stress reveals that 80 percent of us feel stress on the job and almost half say they need help in managing that stress. A StressPulse survey by ComPsych shows that team dynamics directly affect a whopping 92 percent of what causes the most stress among workers.

Among physicians, data shows all levels of the workforce are affected by burnout to some degree and with high incidence rates. In 2017, the Medscape Lifestyle Report survey indicates that, among 14 medical specialties, more than half of the practitioners are experiencing it.

RELATED: Approaching the Burnout Epidemic with a Thriver’s Mindset (with Video)

Each of us in a team comes to work with a set of expectations. Team leaders expect workers to be on time, to do their jobs, to meet deadlines, to produce results and to get along with each other. Team members expect that workload burdens will be assigned equally, they will be treated with respect and the company will understand that they have personal lives, too. Leaders and workers alike tend to get frustrated, stressed and even burned out when these expectations aren’t met.

To avoid that, managers must take the time to bring their teams together and collectively create a set of agreements that form a team charter. Unclear and therefore often unmet expectations set teams up for failure. Agreements, on the other hand, set the team up for success, fulfillment and, most importantly, a sense of control.

Taking the time and making an effort to forge a written charter based on reciprocal agreements, if nothing else, creates a perception of some semblance of control.

The very act of soliciting team members’ input reduces stress levels, giving them the feeling that they are, at the very least, heard. This also leads to team buy-in, proprietorship and the feeling of responsibility for team performance and well-being.

DISCUSSION: Physicians Burning Brightly, Not Burning Out

The charter should include these basic foundational tenets:

  • I agree to be on time, realizing everyone’s time is limited and extremely valuable.

  • I agree to show respect to every member of the team and give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • I agree to give my best effort in accomplishing every task, the team’s mission and our shared purpose.

  • I agree not to engage in any gossip about my team members and to put a stop to it if I encounter it.

  • I agree to communicate early and often pertaining to any time off needed for my personal life.

  • I agree to handle disputes, perceived offenses or conflicts with dignity and professionalism.

Referring to the written charter removes all the drama, tension and wild emotions that tend to get attached to making course corrections. The charter holds everyone accountable — manager and member alike. It creates an atmosphere of fairness, equity, respect and trust. It generates a meaningful exchange of ideas, fosters dynamic communication and collaboration and facilitates durable working relationships.

Forging agreements together takes courage, time and effort; however, the results are a high-performing team that thrives, especially under pressure. A team that is committed to resolving conflict instead of escalating it can flourish in a climate that defeats the negative effects of stress and banishes burnout.

Andrew D. Wittman is founder of the Mental Toughness Training Center .

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

For over 45 years.

The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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