Synergy search

Wright State nursing educators win research grant to measure and improve teamwork

Kathy J. Keister, left, the Crossroads Division Nurse Leader of the American Red Cross, and Sherry Farra, director of the National Disaster Health Consortium.

A study designed to measure and improve synergy and teamwork among nursing students in class projects and in the nursing profession is the aim of research by two Wright State University nursing educators.

Kathy J. Keister, the Crossroads Division Nurse Leader of the American Red Cross; and Sherry Farra, director of the National Disaster Health Consortium in the College of Nursing and Health, received the one-year $6,000 award from Sigma Theta Tau International, a nursing scholarship organization, and ATI Nursing Education, a noted leader in nursing education.

“One thing that we’ve noticed in our students is that oftentimes when they pair up or even work in small groups there seem to be greater outcomes in terms of them putting together whatever the project is versus them working independently,” said Keister.

Farra said nurses are usually required to work in teams in hospitals and other health care settings.

“So we want students to come out of school familiar with how to do that,” she said. “Through this research of looking at what makes good synergistic teams, we hope we can use some of that information to help people become better team members. It is critical. We work in inter-professional and inter-disciplinary teams, and we need to be able to work well together.”

Keister said nursing students bring their own perspectives to projects. For example, some students may already have one college degree that is not in nursing.

“And everybody has different life experiences, especially when it comes to health,” she said. “Sometimes some students are much more familiar with the content the project might entail versus others that may not have those life experiences.”

As opposed to working independently, working in a team requires the members to focus on a common goal and take advantage of the different strengths of each member, Keister said.

A review of the academic literature suggests that synergy and teamwork in business and other environments improves outcomes, but there is no description of how that is measured, said Keister.

“That’s what we’re hoping to do by creating this tool,” she said. “And synergy has not been a topic that has really been addressed in the nursing literature at all from an education perspective.”

Keister said that such a tool would help faculty select teaching strategies that create or strengthen synergy. Farra said the tool would enable faculty and nursing professionals to create strong teams by bringing together people with different learning styles, perspectives, personality traits and critical thinking skills.

“So what goes into making a good team is what we’re studying,” she said, adding that the goal is to improve patient care.

Farra and Keister plan to build a tool based on input from experts and surveys of nurse educators. They will then test the tool in a simulated environment with nursing students. They expect to complete the research by October 2018.

“I hope we’re going to have a psychometrically sound instrument we can use here within Wright State, but hopefully others would also be interested in using it,” said Farra. “The next thing would be to test it within the groups in hospitals to see how we can build really good teams, how can we work with teams that aren’t functioning well.”

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