Women Make Teams Smarter

avoid medical errors, Pat Iyer, women in teamsNew Harvard research looked at how teams perform.

“The methodology: People aged 18-60 were provided IQ tests and assigned randomly into teams. Teams were evaluated with a collective IQ score as well, after being asked to complete tasks (brainstorming, decision making, visual puzzles, etc.) and solve a complex problem.
The finding: Teams that had members with higher IQs didn’t earn higher team intelligence scores; however, those teams who had women did. In other words, if a team includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

The conclusions of the researchers centered around how females behave in teams. One of the researchers explained, “What do you hear about great groups? Not that members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic,” explained Wooley. “In our study, we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.” Read more

The last sentence in the paragraph above is key: “Groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.” The expression is that we were born with two ears and one mouth so we would do twice as much listening as talking. If you dominate the conversation, you lose the opportunity for others to offer ideas, feedback, and criticisms. People who are not given a chance to talk will shut down. Now we know the group intelligence goes down.

I learned firsthand the value of teams when I took my first job after graduate school. When I first graduated from University of Pennsylvania with my Masters Degree in Nursing, I was director of a nursing staff development/inservice/orientation department of a hospital. I began having staff meeting with my (female) instructors to plan our activities. I quickly learned that the ideas our group came up with in many cases surpassed what I thought was the best plan. This was not because I was limited and they were brilliant. Together we arrived at decisions that considered everyone’s perspective. We made decisions about courses we would teach and how we would provide inservices on the nursing units, as well as how we would solve administrative issues.

How does this relate to medical errors? Let’s consider one aspect: what goes on in your doctor’s office. A smoothly functioning physician practice has people who work together to solve problems within their practices. Both administrative and clinical problems arise that need to be addressed. Administrative issues might deal with the customer service aspects of the practice: how long do you have to wait before being seen? How are you greeted? How are disputes over billing handled?

Clinical issues can develop when your physician is diagnosing and treating your medical problem. Think about this: A physician who is having trouble diagnosing your problem or coming up with the right treatment plan may ask advice from a colleague. A physician may be willing to seek guidance from a colleague who will listen, ask questions to help identify the problem, and do so in a non-judgmental way. Wouldn’t you rather be cared for by a physician who is willing to talk to another physician to help solve your problem, rather than jumping to a conclusion that might be wrong? Don’t you want this level of collaboration and cooperation when your health is at stake?

1. If you had a choice between going to an all male physician practice and a practice that was all female or had a mix of males and females, this research would suggest you should consider the team with women on it.
2. If you are part of an all male practice and cannot switch, consider asking your male physician questions that would encourage him to collaborate with others. For example, he says, “I am not sure what is causing this rash.” You can say, “Is there anyone else you could consult with to help problem solve this?”
3. If your physician is dominating the conversation and not giving you a chance to talk, take control of the conversation. “I’d like to be sure I have a chance to tell you about my symptoms. I want you to have all the information you need to make your diagnosis and treatment plan.”

Patricia Iyer MSN RN LNCC spent 7 years as Director of Staff Development for Mercer Medical Center, now Capitol Health System, in Trenton, NJ before starting her own business helping medical malpractice attorneys. She is coeditor of the newly released 4th edition of Nursing Malpractice, available at www.patiyer.com. She is president of Avoid Medical Errors, LLC.

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