In pursuit of quality, let’s be more like geese

Posted Jun 18, 2018

Andrew Neuner, Chief Executive Officer, HQCA

In reading Dr. Greg Powell’s recent Quality Matters piece; Quality, cost and continuity – A reflection on Falling Through the Cracks: Greg’s Story, I whole-heartedly agree that when we have conversations about improving the quality of healthcare for Albertans, the Alberta Quality Matrix for Health dimensions of quality: acceptability, accessibility, appropriateness, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety should be our compass or ‘North Star’.

Before we forge ahead toward this common destination of quality in healthcare, what conditions create an ideal and trusted space to pursue these dimensions? Here are some of my thoughts.

Take turns leading, placing equal value on leadership and followership.

I have often used the analogy about geese in flight and their relevance to this cooperative relationship between leadership and followership – particularly in a large and complex system like we have in healthcare.

Leadership and followership are complementary skills to appreciate and develop. Knowing when to be a leader or follower, and when to let others lead or follow, allows for more effective and efficient movement together, as a team or system, to maximize collective impact.

Geese fly in a V formation because it:

  • Conserves energy. By staying in formation, they can travel up to 70% further than going off on their own.
  • “Allows them to keep visual contact with one another so they are orientated in the right direction.”

In my experience, the idea of working together to maximize effort and resources is already a shared value in healthcare. However, I think the opportunity here is to become better followers, recognizing when it is time to “let go” and let someone else take the lead position.

With respect to keeping visual contact to maintain formation and correct orientation, geese do this so they are not crashing into each other or getting lost. The parallel in healthcare is the importance of keeping one another informed of respective priorities, plans and activities to reduce the risk of duplicating or pursuing irrelevant work and finding opportunities to share knowledge and/or resources.

Also, geese know it is time to migrate (change) when the weather (conditions, priorities) shifts. And, even though each goose might take a slightly different course or approach when they lead the V, they are all flying to the same destination (clear objective or vision).

By taking cues from our feathered friends, there is an opportunity to be more efficient, increase alignment, and work as a team or system toward the same well-defined goal. I believe that if we can create the right environment by sharing leadership and followership accountabilities, the sky is the limit when it comes to advancing healthcare quality.

There are two other important conditions I think help create that ideal and trusted space to pursue quality improvement and will write about as part of our HQCA Matters series: protecting civility and learning from others. I hope you will stay connected as this conversation continues.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @HighNeun