INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—In an emergency room, teamwork can mean the difference between life and death. The unique dynamics among team members is what attracted Christopher O.L.H. Porter, Kelley associate professor of management and Randall L. Tobias Faculty Fellow of Leadership Excellence, to research emergency room teams at local hospitals.
“The teams in the emergency room are action teams,” says Porter, who will teach practicing physicians in Kelley’s new Business of Medicine MBA program. “You see incredible displays of leadership and teamwork in those teams on a daily basis. It has been fascinating for me to observe those teams as they work together because the stakes are different in a hospital setting. You see lots of examples of nurses jumping in to do something that they’re not formally required to do that ultimately helps a patient. The other interesting thing that happens here is there is a joint focus on performance and learning at the same time and balancing those two can be a challenge for those in leadership positions.”
Observing various emergency room shifts at local hospitals, Porter is studying how doctors, nurses and other medical staff work together in a coordinated, urgent effort.
“Many times with such teams, you have lots of people who come together quickly. They have a sense of what the problem is, but the problem changes over the course of time the team is working together,” Porter explains. “Emergency room personnel are often together for short periods of time and then they disperse. So they’ve got to learn how to get up to speed quickly. Leadership and teamwork become essential.”
In fact, leadership and teamwork are at the core of Porter’s research background. An expert in teams and team development, Porter has observed team dynamics in tactical organizations such as the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He has studied leadership and teamwork among teams working on a tactical decision-making task designed by the Department of Defense and is currently studying teams at the United States Naval Academy.
“Tactical teams are unique because they have to make decisions and perform under time pressure and threat, using specialized expertise that has to be coordinated in such a way to help the team be effective as a unit,” he says. “People on tactical teams usually have limited information, yet they have to perform at high levels. You also see tactical teams operating in hospital settings, whether you’re talking about teams of physicians, teams of nurses or trauma teams.”
In his research, Porter will link leadership and teamwork to performance within an emergency room and validate or challenge theories he brings with him from the business world.
“During the time I’ve spent in the ER, it’s become incredibly apparent that no amount of specialized expertise will help a team be effective if that team isn’t led effectively. And that’s what we can potentially bring from the business perspective,” says Porter. “A team is a team, whether we’re talking about a top management team or a board of directors. I think there are insights that can be gained from the emergency room that can be applied to those settings.”
Likewise, Porter believes his relationship with emergency room teams will be mutually beneficial.
“There’s much to learn from seeing how the teams in medical settings operate,” he says. “Ideally, I can challenge some of the models we currently have and see to what extent they’re effective.”
Learn more about Kelley’s new Business of Medicine program.