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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Pynnonen

The Power of Vulnerability: Transforming Team Dynamics Amid Pandemic Challenges

It was November 2020, well into the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The frequent covid testing, mandatory masking, and social isolation were taking a toll on all of us. Professionally, the care I could offer my patients was routinely complicated by medication shortages, supply backorders, and staff turnover.

I remember being in the operating room, about to begin a long day of surgical cases. We initiated the routine ‘time-out’ that occurs before each case, allowing the team to review patient information and discuss any concerns.

Typically, nobody raises concerns. But on this day, 9 months into the pandemic, I paused. Acutely aware of the complex, conflicting emotions I had been ignoring for months, I chose to speak up.

I shared with the team that I was struggling. I was tired of the ongoing challenges, and I was frustrated with the endless shortages, changes, and compromises we were being forced to make. I asked the team for help, asking them to do whatever they could to create a positive experience in the operating room that day.

That frank admission transformed the team dynamic. As cases progressed that day, inevitable small inconveniences were quickly addressed by team members. The plugged suction machine, the overturned foot pedal, the extra suture were all quickly fixed. As each problem arose, attentive team members helped problem solve. I remember feeling not only supported by my team, but also extremely grateful.

In the months that followed, I continued to share my own vulnerabilities as a way of creating space for others to give voice to what many of us were feeling. Other team members began to share their own challenges or frustrations, and we worked together to support one another. I later read about the concept of “psychological safety” and realized that’s what we had created on our team.

Thankfully the pandemic has passed and taken with it many of the daily frustrations. But I still remember that feeling of be cared for and supported by my team, and I hope they remember the feeling of working together to support each other through often impossible circumstances.

Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness. It can set an example of asking for help and create opportunities for team members to care for one another, building trust and strengthening the team.

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