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Inspire shared purpose by appraising your staff as a team

How can your staff be motivated to work effectively as a team? Group appraisals can be used to assess current performance, set future objectives and instil collective responsibility

Shared purpose

Performance appraisals are an opportunity for managers to understand their staff members’ achievements and development needs. The problem with a conventional appraisal is that it is often perceived as a form filling exercise. It is rare that a person being appraised will come out of the meeting and be inspired and motivated. Staff members may become disengaged with the process because they are intimidated by words such as performance and objectives. An excellent appraisal will leave both the manager and employee inspired to do better by having had an honest and open dialogue that builds a trusting relationship. How many of us can say that we have experienced this?

The idea of appraising staff as a team to try to improve engagement was proposed to all departments within County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust. As members of the pharmacy department, we were enthusiastic because the department had undergone a major restructure 18 months previously, which had created new teams and ways of working. We saw team appraisals as an opportunity to assess the impact of the reorganisation, review our current performance and develop our services into the future. We hoped that doing this would align our objectives with the organisation’s strategy and help us to deal with the financial, social and organisational challenges the NHS is currently facing.

Things to consider

The fundamental principle of team appraisal is to assess the performance of the team against organisational objectives. It can involve combining different grades of staff and even different staff types. For instance, we have appraised technicians and pharmacists during the same session.

Team appraisals can be used either alone or in combination with a one-on-one discussion at a different time. This is a shorter, more focused session with the staff member and manager discussing individual objectives, activities for personal development and any private issues.

Preparation is the key to achieving an effective team appraisal. Firstly, a set of ground rules need to be developed (for example “make positive contributions” and “give your own opinion only” — see Box). It is important that participants are committed to following these rules. The format and content of the session can then be tailored to the requirements of the issues that are being raised.

Suggestions for ground rules

- Make positive contributions

- Respect other group members

- Keep the discussion confidential

- Give your own opinion only

- Focus on the point you are making

- Be brief and do not monopolise the discussion

- Decide whether issues affect only you or the whole team

- Do not give aggressive or personal critique

- Share a vision of what is possible rather than what is not

Choosing the person to lead the appraisal (the facilitator) needs careful consideration because he or she must be able to keep the session on track without biasing or distracting the conversations. They can be a line manager or someone neutral but they should be focused on the specific issues that need attention.

It is a good idea to start the appraisal with some form of icebreaker to encourage all participants to contribute. The majority of the session is then used to allow the team to discuss their past performance and assess how they met objectives. This can be done using any performance measure, including audits and patient feedback. The facilitator encourages open discussion and must allow the group to reach its own conclusions. It is important that the facilitator works to avoid conflict but still allows an open critique of the current performance. 

From this discussion, improvements and future objectives can be determined. The SMART mnemonic (goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based) can be used to guide objective setting.

Upon completion of the appraisal it is important to gain consensus about the objectives and to assign clear ownership of tasks to be undertaken after the session. Depending upon the nature of the objective the work can be allocated to either individuals or teams. Progress should be monitored, as for any other appraisal process, but the team is held accountable for completion.

Outcomes and challenges

At County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, the process has facilitated a clear team approach to developing objectives where everyone is more aware of the direction the department is moving and what their role involves. It has allowed work to be shared across different geographical sites and encouraged collaborative working.

The major challenge has been to maintain the momentum following the team appraisal, because typically the team is motivated at the end of the session but this is lost because of other work pressures. It is important to empower staff members to challenge each other and take a shared responsibility, make sure the team has the appropriate support, and ensure that suitable people take ownership of the agreed objectives.

It was also challenging to give all participants the opportunity to express their views during the sessions. The facilitator must be careful to avoid sessions becoming hijacked and individuals getting on “soapboxes” to talk about pet topics. This is when it is useful to enforce the ground rules and employ other techniques, such as using a whiteboard to park distracting topics.

In summary, team appraisals are a useful tool for managers to assess team performance and create shared objectives. The approach can help pharmacy teams to improve communication, work more efficiently and meet the various challenges presented by the modern NHS.

David Gibson is lead clinical pharmacist at Darlington Memorial Hospital, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist DOI: 10.1211/CP.2014.11138793

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