Leading the Way: Building Teamwork After a Turbulent Time

Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN; Tanya M. Cohn, Ph.D., MEd, RN


Am Nurs Journal. 2022;17(11) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Focus on safety and trust.

Maria works as a perioperative director in a large academic medical center. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, she managed a cohesive team with many seasoned staff members. Unfortunately, most of the experienced nurses retired during the pandemic. Today, Maria's team consists primarily of new graduates and nurses on travel contracts. She sees that staff members lack connection with one another. She's challenged with bringing a new team together after the old team fell apart.

Maria's situation isn't unusual. Early in the pandemic, many nurse leaders marveled at the sense of teamwork and collaboration among staff. Fast forward to today, and they find themselves in a different place. Two sustained years of fighting the pandemic caused massive disruption to healthcare teams. In 2021, according to Berlin and colleagues, nurse turnover skyrocketed, and many seasoned nurses retired. Today's nursing teams include less experienced nurses and nurses on travel or agency contracts. Most team rituals disappeared because of social distancing, and even onboarding occurred remotely. Nurses no longer ate together, and the team didn't celebrate special events such as birthdays and baby showers. In addition, nurses socialized less outside of work. Maria sees her team members struggle to find meaning in their work, and they lack the social glue that rituals provided to keep them together.

Research indicates that many nurses who joined teams during the pandemic feel less connected to other team members. Wearing personal protective equipment made it difficult to read facial expressions and sometimes recognize and talk with other staff members. Healthcare has always been a team sport, especially in perioperative nursing. Nurses rely on one another to deliver safe and quality care, and team backup is essential.

The good news for Maria is that with intentional work she can rebuild teamwork. She can start by restoring trust and psychological safety. Without these two essential ingredients, Maria will struggle to rebuild a high-functioning team.