Physician Retreat Solves Office Conflict

Content doctors, engaged staff members, satisfied patients.  Seems so simple, but when there’s strife among physician partners, employees often feel office conflict and reflect it to patients.

One four-partner specialty practice in the Northwest found themselves at odds over almost everything.  There was discord between administration and one of the partners.  Another of the partners took exception to the way the Managing Partner handled many of the business operations.  Two of the non-partner employed physicians were threatening to quit and the Nurse Practitioners were up-in-arms over pay issues.  In a word, the group was dysfunctional.

The solution?  A retreat facilitated by an outsider who could surface issues and enable the partners to work collaboratively to identify strategies to solve the discontent.  The process was simple and effective.

The SullivanLuallin Group consultant began by implementing a physician-staff member engagement survey to assess how the group’s employees were affected by the conflict among the doctors.  At the same time, the consultant interviewed each of the partners, non-partner physicians and all of the Nurse Practitioners to gain insight into the issues at hand.

At the end of the input-gathering phase, the SullivanLuallin Group consultant brought the four partner physicians and the office administrator together for a four-hour problem-solving retreat.  She presented the results of the insider survey and interviews in the context of the group’s strengths/limitations.  Next the consultant listed the issues that had been affecting performance and morale among the entire care team.  Very sensitive subjects included lack of respect; little confidence or transparency in decision-making; a sense of disengagement with the partnership; overwork and stress; fatigue with conflict; and a concern for misplaced values of the partners.

Through a process of multi-voting, the needs to address were prioritized and then tackled in a systematic way.  The partners recommended and worked through strategies for dealing with each of their concerns.  Because the discussion was facilitated by an outsider, the atmosphere was devoid of rancor.  In fact, each participant shared thoughts and suggestions without fear of ridicule or eye-rolling.

Following agreement on the list of strategies that all had collaborated to develop, the final exercise was for each member of the group in turn to say something appreciative to the office administrator who had suffered the brunt of the conflict among the partners.  As each member shared comments, emotions ran high and at the end of the retreat there wasn’t a dry eye in the group.