What I learnt this week: Does time make teams? #WILTW

This is the 48th WILTW 

In the most recent edition of the Emergency Medicine Journal there is an article entitled, “How familiar are clinician teammates in the emergency department” by Patterson et al. I think it is a pretty interesting study, even if you are not a health care professional (but I’m a bit of data geek so not everyone will agree!)

The authors looked at the amount of time any given clinician (by this they meant doctor, nurse or support staff) spent with any other clinician over a 22 week period. By averaging out times they calculated something called ‘weekly mean familiarity’ – the average amount of time any two clinicians would spend together. Because of the shift nature of Emergency work and a limit to the amount of shifts you can do there is clearly a maximum time you can spend in contact with a colleague. However some of the weekly mean familiarity figures were surprisingly low. For example, Junior Doctors would only spend 0.4 hours, on average, working with the same Junior Doctor per week. I’ll be honest I still can’t quite get my head around how small this number is but the maths do seem to work out.


This article struck a cord as I attended a lecture this week on Human Factors by Patrick Mitchell, a neurosurgeon from Newscastle. He is particularly focused on casting a wide educational net i.e you must train whole departments if you are to reduce human errors; you can’t just cherry pick the most interested individuals. One his themes was the difference between groups and teams:

Groups and Teams

Table via For Dummies 

Essentially “While all teams are groups of individuals, not all groups are teams [1]” 

These comparison tables are often seen as twee and theoretical rather than  practical. However I’m sure that team spirit being important to effective functioning of the unit is not unique to Emergency Departments. But is a component of team dynamic a function of the time they actually spend together? Given the variety of rotas in many health care organisations I think it’s important we consider how often staff do get a chance to ‘be together’. Many in medicine have complained that working time directives targets have been bad for patient care. I do not completely buy into this. I do believe though the team spirit is vital and that Patterson et al. has given me much to ponder.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

1. Source: Boundless. “Differences Between Groups and Teams.” Boundless Management. Boundless, 17 Apr. 2015. Retrieved 17 Apr. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/groups-teams-and-teamwork-6/defining-teams-and-teamwork-51/differences-between-groups-and-teams-261-4011/Teams works differently from groups.

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