As conference sponsors, several AIIR team members had the privilege of attending the 2019 Society of Consulting Psychology Conference, February 6 in Fort Worth, TX.

As promised, the conference brought together elite coaches, talent management professionals, and business leaders from around the world to explore the latest research, best practices, and innovative approaches to operating in today’s business landscape. Here are three of our key takeaways from the conference.

Quick Insight 1: Team training a cure for ailing healthcare teams

Robyn Garrett | Vice President at AIIR Consulting

As someone who spent the past several years working in the healthcare industry, I was drawn to Dr. Eduardo Salas’s presentation “Creating Effective Teams: Insights from the Science of Teamwork.”

What stood out most for me was how many leaders still have a basic misunderstanding of what makes a team of individuals operate cohesively, even in the healthcare industry, where the majority of patient care is conducted by cross-functional teams.

Dr. Eduardo Salas

Dr. Eduardo Salas

In an interview, Dr. Salas said he was astounded by how little medical teams understood about team functioning.

“I thought I would find that [medical professionals would] understand the science of team training,” he said. “Much to my surprise, I spent the first few years [of working in the healthcare industry] educating healthcare professionals on what we know about teamwork. The lack of awareness about this very robust science that could help them with their problems surprised me.”

Dr. Salas said that while medical teams operate in uniquely challenging environments, the fundamental challenges they face are the same as teams in any other industry: lack of clarity around roles and poor communication.

Team coaching, Dr. Salas said, can crystalize team members’ roles and responsibilities and facilitate lines of communication that run from the orderly all the way to the chief of medicine and hospital administrators.

The outcomes are breathtaking: in a recent analysis, Salas found that properly implemented team training can reduce patient mortality by 13%. Other outcomes included:

  • 18% better reaction time to patient needs
  • 17% better teamwork
  • 18% fewer medical errors
  • 13% higher patient satisfaction
  • 6% shorter hospital stays

Even with these results, Dr. Salas said there is significant resistance to team training in healthcare. Affecting change will take dedication from healthcare leaders.

“Do you know why leaders in aviation are more committed to teamwork than those in medicine?” he asked. “It’s because if something goes wrong in the sky the pilot goes down with the plane.”

Quick Insight 2: Adopting a succession planning mindset:

Dr. Jonathan Kirshner | CEO of AIIR

At AIIR, we have strong exposure to the retail sector (check out our post on coaching in retail) and a robust succession planning practice, so the opportunity to hear former Neiman Marcus CEO Karen Katz share her point of view on leadership and her experience receiving executive coaching was outstanding.

Karen Katz

Former Neiman Marcus CEO Karen Katz

Her willingness to be vulnerable and share the areas of her leadership she was actively focused on was inspiring.

Most refreshing, however, were her simple but poignant comments on what we can call a “succession planning mindset.” Ms. Katz pointed out that too often succession planning focuses on identifying the leaders that the business needs now and not for tomorrow.

Although this may build bench strength for today, in a retail sector that changes at the speed of an Amazon Prime delivery, the succession planning mindset must shift from what the business needs today to what the business will need tomorrow.

Companies must invest in mapping out their long-term vision (3-5 years) and the competencies that will be required to successfully navigate the future landscape. By shifting the mindset to what the business will need tomorrow, rather than what is making it successful today, organizations can build in selection filters that not only identify the strongest talent today but also the individuals who will be best equipped to lead the organization into the future.

Quick Insight 3: Sticks and stones will break your bones, and so may critical feedback

Dr. Claire Jaffe | AIIR Executive Coach

One of the presentations that made an impression and stayed with me was Dr. Ken Nowack’s presentation, “Ouch that Hurt! The Neuroscience of Feedback in Coaching.” If you missed the conference, you can read an article he wrote on the same topic.

Dr. Ken Nowack

Dr. Ken Nowack

In his presentation, Dr. Nowack shared research that showed how interpersonal stressors, such as receiving negative feedback, trigger huge releases of the stress hormone cortisol — 3x more than non-interpersonal stressors like a close call in traffic. This disproportionate response makes sense in evolutionary terms. For our cave-dwelling ancestors, surviving the dangerous world in which they lived depended on being accepted by the group. Being ostracized meant certain death.

Even more interesting was the research Dr. Nowack shared that showed social pain — pain due to criticism, feeling rebuffed or rejected, bring scolded, etc. — ignites two areas of the brain that are associated with physical pain. That is, critical feedback actually hurts. And, because they affect the same areas of the brain, social and physical pain have many of the same outcomes: depression, inflammation, and fatigue among them.

This information seems especially pertinent to leaders who consider direct and stinging critical feedback to be the surest way to improve performance. Dressing down an employee whose performance needs to improve is like telling an injured athlete to walk it off. Not only is it unlikely to improve their performance, but the damage it causes is likely deeper and more lasting than you anticipate.

My takeaway for leaders is this: If we want feedback to be constructive, it cannot be destructive. As Dr. Nowack pointed out: We may need to rethink the old saying about sticks and stones…

AIIR Consulting

AIIR Consulting is a global leadership development consultancy dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and performance of leaders and their organizations. Through the strategic integration of coaching and technology, AIIR Consulting brings agile leadership development to today’s connected leader.

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