By Laurie Cure 

It’s the perfect time of year for reflections, and 2020 will certainly go into the books as one of the most difficult years in history. Yet, despite the challenges, when we asked our network, “What have you learned in 2020?” the responses were those of resiliency, strength and a return to core values.

These positive reflections in no way diminish the significant struggles this year has brought. We know that depression, domestic violence, and suicide have increased as a result of this year’s events. However, our reflections and learnings illuminate what so many spiritual traditions have known for millennia; that discomfort and suffering are a sure path to growth and expansion. 

Considering what we’ve learned from 2020, many people in our conversations indicated that this year has allowed them to reprioritize and reevaluate their values. As people lost their jobs, they noticed that who they are is more than what they do. Companies made difficult decisions and employees took note of whether their values were aligned with those actions. Many learned to surrender to what is out of their control, believing in the greater need to pause and reflect on new paths before them.  

For those in healthcare, this year has added additional pressure on an already strained system. Despite operating beyond its capacity, physicians, leaders and hospital teams have accomplished what would have seemed impossible just 10 months ago. Carol Emery, a DNP and Chief Nursing Officer observed, “We have learned what is important when it comes to patient care prioritization. We have had rapid improvements in a matter of weeks that would have taken us months or years to achieve previously.” The challenges of the past year have created an urgency where creativity and innovation thrive to find new solutions.  

Compassion fatigue and burnout have escalated for those working in healthcare. While nursing teams and physicians are often skilled at resiliency, there comes a breaking point. This year we had the opportunity to coach nursing leadership teams at Baptist Health to strengthen their resiliency and team connectedness. We helped overworked nurses find time for meditation during their day and gave them a safe place to decompress with their team outside of the hospital setting. These trainings were a success and helped these nursing teams feel better equipped to tackle the ongoing pandemic surges.

Resiliency emerged as a common theme in our discussions. While we know resilience is an exhaustible resource, many individuals noted that their strength and capacity to manage stress was more than they realized. Over the past year, our team has helped many organizations adapt to the environmental changes of 2020 to enhance their long-term health and performance. Many teams felt disconnected and adrift as work from home became a long-term necessity and new challenges with childcare and staying safe from the virus stretched everyone thin. 

Building a high-performing team requires conscious effort and specific development strategies, especially in such a difficult year. We partnered with organizations to help leaders understand the characteristics of high-performing teams and assess their current team dynamics to create customized approaches and interventions to bridge that gap. This year, we focused with our clients on building trust, understanding, accountability and commitment to ensure deepened relationships and the ability to deliver results. With so many workforces scattered in high-stress work from home environments, these interventions were important tools to ensure a connected and committed remote team. 

We worked with several teams to conduct our team development assessment. One large health system had several new members who started at the beginning of the pandemic. By using our team assessment, they were able to successfully onboard new team members in a difficult time and develop an action plan to ensure their team could manage and navigate conflict more effectively as they grew. 

At the organizational level, leaders spoke to us about the desire to leverage a crisis and the need to create common goals for their team to get behind. Rebecca Holder-Otte, a senior marketing executive, shared, “The common goals created more capacity for change and innovation. This year helped us to show up and live our values more fully. When roadblocks arose, we could quickly identify and resolve goal conflicts.” Those organizations that were able to live their values through the crisis saw stronger employee loyalty, commitment and team cohesion. 

Many organizations claim to value their people above all else and COVID posed a significant challenge to this promise.  One healthcare organization we assisted had to make some challenging financial decisions considering fiscal losses from volume declines. To ensure they lived their values and supported their people, they made the difficult decision to retain their staff (and not proceed with recommended lay-off’s) while searching for more creative solutions to meet their financial shortfall. The decision paid off as COVID cases climbed. While neighboring healthcare providers struggled to recruit and retain front line staff, this hospital system continued to see high levels of commitment and loyalty from their staff despite the exhausting situation. 

While 2020 brought unprecedented challenges, when people reflect on their lessons, the message was one of strength. Out of great adversity comes great strength, and this year has been a clear example of the capacity we have as human beings to manage uncertainty. By returning to core values and taking time to reflect, many have been able to come out of this difficult year full of hope and resilience.