The Importance of Teamwork and Collaboration in Nursing

A team of health care professionals poses at a hospital desk.

Patient care is the top priority in nursing. For patients to receive the best health care possible, nurses must communicate with relevant professionals about their patients’ treatment plan while also understanding the role of each assigned team member. In essence, nurses serve as a bridge between doctors, patients, and the hospital. Teamwork and collaboration are critical to this role.

Even the World Health Organization (WHO), in its Multi-professional Patient Safety Curriculum Guide, acknowledges that “effective teamwork in health care delivery can have an immediate and positive impact on patient safety.” Noting that patients in modern-day health care rarely see just one medical professional, WHO adds that teamwork and coordination help minimize the occurrence of adverse events caused by errors in both communication and an understanding of defined professional roles.

A Blueprint for Success in Teamwork and Collaboration

There is an important but subtle difference between teamwork and collaboration in nursing, and both are essential to ensure patient safety and care. Collaboration refers to joint efforts between various independent teams or groups. For example, if a pregnant patient shows signs of a heart issue, a cardiac surgery team will be called to work together with those in the maternity ward. Teamwork refers to the efforts within one team to produce the highest quality and most efficient results. Whether in a small, focused health care organization or a large hospital with many departments, both teamwork and collaboration are central to health care.

To provide patients with the best care, nurses in leadership roles should maintain the following teamwork and collaborative principles:

Establish Team Goals

Examples of common health care goals can include improving patient care, shortening response times, and decreasing waste. Setting a team goal provides every team member a focused objective to work toward, which helps create team unity and provides space for feedback. Without setting common goals, individuals on a team may have different outcomes in mind, which can only serve to hinder progress. For example, if the goal is to reduce patient wait times, but each individual pursues a different method without speaking to their team, the likely outcome is confusion around the patient intake process. As a result, wait times may actually increase.

Assign Roles Within a Team

Nurses interact with a large number of health care professionals, both within their own team and across departments. It is crucial then, to have an understanding of key roles within individual teams to achieve greater collaboration. If clear roles are not assigned, team members may duplicate efforts in some areas while leaving gaps in others. This not only wastes time but could cause patient harm. The publication Working Nurse notes that the most effective collaboration is interdisciplinary — where each individual brings their area of expertise to the team to provide the best possible care. Each member must understand their role and expectations to achieve the team goal.

Allow for Open Communication

Because nurses interact with many people, from patients to practitioners, they must develop keen listening skills. Those working alongside nurses may have their individual feedback, suggestions, or questions; making active listening an important aspect of team operations. A report by Wolters Kluwer, the professional solutions provider, notes that breakdowns in health care communication can happen for various reasons: when team members are transferred to another department, during shift changes, through poor transfer of information, or when the patient changes nurses. On the other hand, team members whose input and successes are verbally acknowledged to the greater team are more likely to contribute their ideas, which builds team cohesion and efficiency.

Promote Mutual Respect

Mutual respect is critical in health care settings, not just within the team but across collaborative departments. Team members who are not feeling respected can become defensive, foster hidden agendas, demonstrate a lack of engagement, and worse. Building mutual respect comes through a common, focused goal; an understanding that each individual’s work is valuable and an acknowledgment of the efforts of others.

Handle Conflict Proactively

Effective teamwork and collaboration in nursing exist with the understanding that some conflict is inevitable. By allowing for open communication and listening to team members’ concerns, nurses can encourage productive conflict resolution in its early stages. Nursing 2019 notes that while there are several approaches to handling conflict — such as competition, accommodation, and compromise — collaboration is most effective. When all parties approach conflict by focusing on the end goal, maintaining respect, and listening openly, most issues can be resolved effectively.

Be an Effective Leader

The field of health care is filled with leaders, and nursing is no exception. Specialized nurse practitioners frequently assume leadership roles, taking charge of teamwork and collaborative efforts. The best leaders can adapt to different circumstances based on the team, patient care goals, and the needs of the health care organization. Quality leaders must be flexible while helping their team members and other departments in an open and respectful manner.

Learn More

Teamwork and collaboration in the nursing field are essential. For those looking to leverage these skills to advance their career, exploring an advanced degree is an excellent strategy. Regis College offers an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from both BSN and MSN backgrounds. The MSN to DNP program in particular features a nurse educator concentration, which focuses on teamwork and collaborative skills. Learn more about how these programs may help you step up as a leader in your nursing career.


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Nursing 2019, “Dealing with conflict effectively”

Regis College, BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice

Regis College, Master of Science in Nursing

Regis College, MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (Nurse Education)

Wolters Kluwer, “Teamwork and Collaboration”

Working Nurse, “Six Ways to Improve Collaboration on Nursing Teams”