Creating an Effective Pharmacy Team – It’s More Than Putting A Bunch of People Together

by | Mar 25, 2020 | General, Workplace Matters

I was reading a major pharmacy journal.  The article was talking about forming a team.  The author was discussing which would be better: having an outstanding individual or having an outstanding team.  The author and his article favored the team.

Do I agree? For the most part— yes. But I think there’s a lot to go into when it comes to forming a team.  You can’t just assemble a bunch of people and call it a team. Because the right team is gold, while the wrong team is a disaster.

If you’re like me, I’m sure you watch the news.  I usually watch it around the dinner hour and sometimes late at night.

And I noticed something. The news is often the same on different stations.  Yet, I always watch the same station when I watch the news.

So how do I determine which station to watch?  By the newscasters. I like watching certain newscasters.  Why? Because I like their chemistry. I like the way they work together and how they complement one another.  They form a great team!

Quite often, I can tell the difference when the anchors don’t mesh and that intangible chemistry isn’t there.

They may be doing a good job in reporting the news.  And I’m sure their stories are accurate. But when I watch them, their team reporting lacks something.

There’s No “I” In Team, But Maybe There Should Be

I worked for a pharmacy director.  She micromanaged everyone (which is another problem altogether).  But she knew her stuff. She was very knowledgeable of pharmacy operations.  She was familiar with the politics of the hospital. She knew how to work with her vice-president and administration to implement new programs.

But she wasn’t a people person.  She didn’t know the strengths and advantages of her staff.  And it showed when she tried to assemble a team that would represent the pharmacy.

She chose me for her team since I was her operations supervisor.  However, she wasn’t thrilled with how I ran the pharmacy or the decisions I made.  The next person on her team was her clinical pharmacist supervisor. However, he favored one of the clinical pharmacists over another.

There was no pharmacy technician representation on our team. She didn’t think she needed any— after all, they’re just techs.  This made points with the pharmacy technicians.

But the most important person on her team was her pharmacy department secretary. The pharmacy secretary had power over everybody.  This created a great deal of departmental friction and really impeded the team.

I’m all for the team concept.  And I know there’s no “I” in team.  But the individual that forms the team has to have the knowledge and capability to assemble the right mix of people.

Do You Want To Talk To The Boss Or The Person That Knows What’s Happening

It was a scary time at my hospital.  My hospital was going through financial difficulties.  There were rumors that the hospital was going to cut 10% of the positions throughout the hospital (though nobody knew which ones).

Each department was meeting with the CEO, the CFO, and several hospital bigwigs in order to make their case to keep their employees.  Like most departments, we were probably going through the motions, since upper management already had decided which positions to lay off. But nevertheless, we had to best prepare for our meeting.

My vice-president came down to the pharmacy about two hours before the meeting.  Now my vice-president was a nice woman. She was a vice-president of nursing, who happened to inherit the pharmacy department when a different vice-president resigned about a year ago. (My hospital never replaced the pharmacy’s original vice-president.  Instead, they just divided up his disciplines amongst the remaining vice-presidents).

Since my vice-president had a nursing background, she sort of left us to our own devices.  My boss and I ran the pharmacy. We made the decisions we needed, pulling the vice-president into it when we needed to.  But we had no problem with that. And she had no problem with that. All was good.

So it’s the day of the meeting.  And my vice-president had come down to help us with our presentation.  This caused my boss and I to look at each other and suddenly we knew. At that moment, we realized that my vice-president knew more than she was saying.  She knew that our department would be experiencing staffing cuts. Thus, she was there to help us limit our losses.

But she was there to help.  That’s a good thing, right? We thought so.  Or at least we did right until she asked her first question.

“What exactly does a pharmacy technician do,” she asked.

My boss and I knew right there that we were doomed.  We were being defended by someone who had no concept of what the pharmacy staff members did.

I vowed that if I ever needed to establish a team, that I was not going to be like my vice-president.  I wanted to know what everyone did every day. And not just things in their job description.

I wanted to know what tasks people performed.  Who they supervised (if anyone) and who they interacted with.  I wanted to be able to tell others what my pharmacy supervisors did every day.  And what my pharmacists did every day. And what my pharmacy technicians did every day.  And even what my pharmacy secretary did every day.

And I’m not just speaking about their tasks and job functions.  I wanted to know about my staff’s lifestyle. Now I have a tremendous gift.  I’m a people person. I love listening to people. And I noticed that most people like talking about themselves.

There are many times when I’ll go to a party or event.  I’ll walk up to someone. Then I’ll pose a question to them so they tell me about themselves.   I’ll listen and when they finish speaking— I’ll ask them something else. Because people like talking about themselves.  And I enjoy listening.

I did the same thing with my staff. I walked up to my staff members and asked them about themselves.  I asked them about their family, their spouse, and their kids. I wanted to know their names and everything about them.  I wanted to know how their weekend was. What they did for their holidays. And where they were going on vacation.

But mostly, I wanted to listen.  And absorb. And know everything about them.  Because it was the only way to lay the groundwork in forming a successful team.

Here I Come To Save The Day

I’ve always admired first responders.  Here’s something dangerous, something terrible.  Now most people would run the other way. But not first responders. Many times they are risking their lives to help others.  For the most part, first responders run toward the horrors, while others are running in the opposite direction.

Believe me, I’m no first responder.  I would never even put myself in the same category.  But I did want to become the “go-to” person in the department.

When things were going along smoothly in the pharmacy, it was easy to be in-charge.  But during a crisis mode, I wanted to be the “go-to” person. I wanted to become the person that handled the catastrophes and tried to make things better.

And a crisis doesn’t even have to be something major or terrible.  Consider the following scenarios:

“Danny, two people called out sick today, what should we do?”

“Danny, we’re out of Dextrose 50% IV, what should we do?”

“Danny, the computer is going to be down for two hours next Thursday, what should we do?”

I could handle these.  In fact, I’ve handled much worse.  In my 30+ years in pharmacy management, I’ve encountered many major events that I needed to address.

I’ve solved many issues, thereby establishing myself as the “go-to” person in-charge.  I kept people abreast of my actions and projected an image of empathy. I also made every attempt to keep my staff calm, regardless of the crisis.

Surround Yourself With Good People, Then Step Back And Let Them Do Their Job

After I earned the trust and confidence of my pharmacy staff as the “go-to” person, I had the opportunity to form a pharmacy team.

The Joint Commission is a regulatory group that inspects hospitals and health-care systems.  It is generally a three-year accreditation (if the facility does well). They send a team of three surveyors and generally inspect over a 3-4 day period.

The Joint Commission inspects the entire facility (not just the pharmacy department).  The inspection can be a very stressful and grueling event.

The pharmacy regulations alone exceed twenty pages.  For the most part, the pharmacy department is evaluated on all aspects relating to medication— including preparation, distribution, storage, and safety.  In addition, pharmacy employees are evaluated for training methods, competencies, and licensing requirements.

There were many other pharmacy requirements that we were expected to achieve.  Plus the pharmacy department (as well as all other departments) were expected to become familiar and comply with many of the hospital regulations (ie. Fire safety, security, cleanliness) as well.

What made the inspection unique was how the Joint Commission conducted the survey.  In other inspections, the regulations just had to be in place and be followed. However, in this inspection, the surveyor questioned staff members about the regulations.  Thus, all staff members had to have a detailed knowledge of the regulations.

It was impossible for me personally to educate each pharmacy staff member on every individual topic.  Yet, as previously stated, each pharmacy staff member had to be knowledgeable about the various aspects.

I needed to form a team.  The team’s objective would be to educate my pharmacy staff members about the pharmacy’s and hospital’s Joint Commission regulations.  But not just teach my pharmacy staff. Instead, my pharmacy staff members would have to be knowledgeable enough to discuss and explain these aspects to other individuals, as well as to the surveyors.

I selected team members based on the following criteria:

  1. Most knowledgeable.  I wanted a team that had a basic knowledge of the Joint Commission regulations.
  2. Quick learners.  My team members had to be quick learners if they were going to train others.
  3. People persons.  Team members had to be likeable and work well with people.
  4. Teaching ability. If they’re training others, my team members needed to have good teaching skills.
  5. Individual strengths.  I don’t know everything and I don’t expect my team members to know everything either.  So in selecting my team, I made sure each member was an expert on a specific topic. That way, as a whole, my team knew everything.

Finally, I realized that a team is exactly what it says it is.  It is a group of individuals committed to working on a specific task or goal.  All members are equal. And every team member’s voice should be heard.

As for me, my job is to guide the team, without overpowering it.  I must allow the team to proceed in whatever direction it needs in order to accomplish its goal.  In other words, now that I have surrounded myself with good people, I must step back and let them do their job.

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Creating Happy Pharmacists

If you really want to build the career and life that you’ve dreamed of, one where you are helping people and working in a field that you love, you need to do something different than what you’ve been doing.

Through coaching you can re-discover why you became a pharmacist and find your passion again.