When you’re overwhelmed by tasks, does anyone notice? Can you approach anyone for help? If the answer is no, maybe teamwork in your nursing unit can be improved. And this is commonly due to two reasons—unclear expectations and a focus on weakness.

Here’s how you can improve it:

Set Clear Expectations.

Are expectations for team support clear on your unit? Do you have a code of conduct that explicitly states how you’ll care for one another?

Many nurses have created change by inviting open discussion at a staff meeting. Talk with your manager about inviting your team to generate a code of conduct. Start small with just a few expectations. State each one clearly, define what it means and discuss consequences for violating the code.

Be creative with your consequences because none of us is perfect. I know one team that requires a nurse to bring donuts on the day after a violation.

Look for Strengths

We don’t have to like the people we work with. They’re not always people we’d choose as friends. But to create teamwork in your nursing unit, we do have to respect the work they do.

A nurse once came to me complaining about a colleague who was very quiet and kept to herself. “Lisa’s not a team player,” she said. So I asked her to tell me about Lisa’s strengths. Was she a good organizer? Did she finish her shift on time? Was she a whiz at computerized charting?

When I was a staff nurse, Elise was a nurse on my unit who could start an IV on anyone. I looked for her when I couldn’t get a line in. As a nurse manager, I tapped into Gloria, a nurse on my unit who loved crossword puzzles. She loved to create the monthly nursing schedule because it was a giant, fun puzzle to her. Most of us feel good when people notice our special talents.

How can you tap into a colleague’s strengths when you need help? On a day when you’re drowning in tasks, consider saying, “I’ve noticed you’re a really good planner, can you help me reorganize my priorities so everything gets done today?”

As you can see, it isn’t about luck. It’s about setting clear expectations for colleagueship and tapping into the strengths of the people you work with. And it’s easy to find faults in others. It takes a real nurse leader to look for the strengths.

Of course, if you can already do all these before, then your unit is doing something right! Think about what it is you’re doing and discuss it at staff meetings to reinforce good behaviors that encourage teamwork in nursing.