culture of collaboration header
Marcie Hopkins, University of Utah Health
The 6 Foundational Elements to Creating a Culture of Collaboration
Department of Surgery collaborators Courtney Lauer, Erin Heath, and Christina Choate share their process for establishing a culture of collaboration that facilitates communication across teams, fosters shared goals, and creates an atmosphere where failure is an opportunity to learn.

eams within health care organizations often operate in silos despite working toward similar goals. With better collaboration and coordination, each team within a department, practice or hospital can work more efficiently and achieve greater success.  

The following six foundational elements were developed from our own experiences facilitating collaborative work across the Department of Surgery. We believe they can be used by any department or team looking to build synergies and become more efficient collaborators.     

The 6 Foundational Elements 

1. Listen – Every Voice Matters 

Listening is the foundation of collaborative work. It builds trust and helps garner buy-in. When we engage in open and authentic conversations, we learn what’s working, what isn’t, and what individuals need to be successful. We can also gain insight into preferences that make ongoing collaboration easier. 

Who we listen to also matters. Collaborative work depends on a diversity of experiences and perspectives. Every team member has a different perspective based on their job roles and responsibilities.

It is important to hear and understand these perspectives to help set everyone up for success, not just leadership. 

2. Identify Common Goals 

Identifying and organizing goals up front establishes a roadmap for everyone to follow.  

In our own work, we facilitate many groups who have overlapping goals and priorities. We developed a standardized intake form to guide our conversations and uncover common goals among groups. The form includes questions to identify areas of interest, target audience or customer, current challenges, and possible solutions. Once goals are identified, it becomes easy to find overlapping priorities and focus collaborative efforts.     

3. Create Equality in Accountability  

Health care is full of hierarchies, which often result in territoriality and competition. Talking about the impact of our collective contributions is one way to combat these challenges. When individuals understand the upstream and downstream impact they have on the overall outcome, they become equal partners in the success (or failure) of any given project. Equality in accountability requires widening the focus beyond individual interests to the greater good of the whole. 

4. Communicate and Engage 

Keeping everyone in the loop fosters a “team spirit” among all involved. When facilitating collaborative work, we make it a point to overshare what's going on so that everyone feels knowledgeable, engaged and involved in the process. It helps members know what the priorities are and continue to work together toward them. The methods we use are guided by communication need and can vary from a quick email check-in to more formal reports and meetings. We also communicate progress updates with key stakeholders and leadership in a timely and consistent manner.  

5. Learn from Failures 

Fear of failure is common. We are fortunate to work in a department where our senior leadership has embraced a culture of learning, where failure isn’t punitive but rather an opportunity to improve. This growth mindset opens the door for creative thinking and innovative solutions. It creates a safe space for exploring new ideas and new collaborators. By pairing this culture with data-driven decision making, we have an objective way to review what went wrong, discuss as a group what worked and what didn’t, and then shift our approach in a new direction. Learning from failure is how we optimize our work.  

6. Celebrate the Wins 

The last and most important foundational element to creating a culture of collaboration is celebrating the wins together. Always make sure to give credit where credit is due and celebrate shared success. These celebrations can be small, a quick email or higlight in a meeting. The important thing is to share all the triumphs in a public way. This helps everyone feel appreciated, models gratitude and positive feedback among team members so that everyone begins to appreciate each other more. 

We would like to acknowledge the individuals and teams that helped contribute to these efforts. Our colleagues and leaders in the Office of Network Development & Telehealth, Clinical Marketing, and the Office of Advancement: Keri Petersen, Tad Morley, Katie Nelson, Lori Williams, Becky Bingham, Maren Anderson and Kate Throneburg.  We would also like to acknowledge the many individuals across the Department of Surgery and Divisions that we work with on a daily basis. And lastly, we’d especially like to thank Department of Surgery Leadership: Dr. Sam Finlayson, Dr. Rob Glasgow, Dr. Mark Savarise, David Ray and Matt Brady.


Courtney Lauer

Marketing Manager, University of Utah Health

Erin Heath

Network Development Operations Manager, University of Utah Health

Christina Choate

Physician Relations Consultant, Department of Surgery, University of Utah Health

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