Whatever health advocacy or quality improvement (QI) work you’re doing, chances are you aren’t embarking on the challenge alone. From fighting obesity in the community to campaigning for policy makers to make public health improvements, building an effective team is often the first step toward making a difference.
Finding the right kind and right number of members for your team will make all the difference in the success or failure of your work. Follow these tips and you’ll soon have a dream team dedicated to your project, be it creating healthier lunches in local school cafeterias, reducing wait times at a healthcare clinic or improving tools for practitioners and families to get necessary health interventions for conditions like autism, hearing loss or sickle cell disease.
Successful quality improvement teams should have no less than four members, but ideally eight to 10. This is to ensure you have broad representation from your community, but not so many opinions that the team has trouble making decisions.
There are three essential roles on any QI team: a team leader, a data collector and a family or patient representative.
The team leader
sets the vision and framework for the project. The leader must recruit, engage and hold accountable teammates and keep the project focused. Preferred characteristics for the team leader include:
- A respected role in the community
- Background in the content area the change will take place (content expertise)
- A strong desire and motivation to make change
- Demonstrated leadership in creating partnerships
- Organizational capabilities; previous experience leading
The data manager
supports the team’s need to document change. Without collecting and reviewing data, the team will not have a way to see if effective, meaningful change is happening. The data manager helps the group set metrics and develop systems to track them. Preferred characteristics for the data manager include:
- Relationship with partners who will be submitting data
- Understanding of or willingness to learn quality improvement principles (see here for an introduction)
- Demonstrated proficiency with graphs and data analysis
The family/patient/consumer representative
is one of the most important teammates needed for improvement. Depending on what you want to change, this will be a person directly affected by the proposed change. This could be: a parent at the local clinic or school, a patient, or someone else generally not involved with the health or healthcare side of things. Preferred characteristics of a family, patient or consumer representative include:
- Is a good representative of the target population
- Connected to other members in the target population
- Has a desire to make improvements
Remember, team members don’t need all these characteristics. In the end, the most important thing a team needs is passion, persistence and organization. However, having a team with diversity of professions, skills and networks is very useful. It can help to give focus to a community-wide problem, create alliances among diverse, unconnected groups, increase buy-in from the groups you are trying to change, establish a consistent, community-wide approach to an issue, as well as offer more varied solutions.
For example, if you are planning a hospital-based change, a diverse representation would include a physician, a nurse, an administrator and a patient. A team trying to introduce healthier foods into a school cafeteria might consist of a principal, a parent, a local nutritionist, a member from the public health department, a student and others.
Sometimes it’s easiest to start with who you know, but it’s important to be strategic and focused on who you invite to your team. Prepare to invite people by identifying which individual or organization you want to have involved. Then, determine why a specific person is the right fit to support your work and articulate that in the invitation to join the team.