Issues and Views

In my opinion: Julie Abramson

Social Workers, You Can Make Interdisciplinary Teams Work

By Julie S. Abramson

Julie AbramsonMy social work training in working with groups is the source for my abiding interest in helping teams to improve their functioning. Like most of my fellow social workers, I have sat through many team meetings where team dysfunction has undermined professional capacity to provide optimum care. Interdisciplinary care teams, which are often of particular value, can also be particularly challenging.

When faced with this problem, I first look to change the things that are potentially under my control rather than getting frustrated with those that aren't. As social workers, we are trained in group processes, and a team is of course a group. Therefore, we already have the skills to help teams work effectively. Yet, so often, we wait for the team leader, able or not, to take this responsibility.

I feel strongly that making teams work is your job, even if not necessarily your official role. Good team function is the responsibility of all team members, but you are likely to be better prepared than most to assist your team. Yes, I am talking about applying your social work skills to collaboration with your colleagues.

Among the most powerful of your skills is the ability to remain nonjudgmental and listen with an open mind to others' points of view. We do that so effectively with clients. Yet social workers and other professionals are often quite judgmental toward their colleagues. Such a stance, which almost always undermines collaborative outcomes, often arises from interprofessional differences that are poorly understood. Challenge yourself to understand the socialization of other professionals; I guarantee that you will begin to understand some of their "unacceptable" positions. In so doing, you will enable yourself to take their values and concerns into consideration when offering your ideas.

Finally, you must accept the idea that strategic and thoughtful interventions are needed in your interactions with colleagues. No, it is not realistic to expect teams to work just because everyone "should" act professionally. Application of your skills in assessing group dynamics; monitoring process; creating a climate of openness, trust, and group cohesion; dealing with conflict; and developing positive, client-centered norms is critical at all stages of teamwork. Don't hold back.

Julie S. Abramson, M.S.W., Ph.D., is an organization consultant who has designed interventions to "make teams work." She is also associate professor emerita, School of Social Welfare, State University of New York at Albany, and an expert contributor to the IGSW course Team Approach: Working Across Disciplines.

This article is reprinted from the September-October 2011 issue of IGSW News.

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Copyright © 2013 Trustees of Boston University. All rights reserved. This article may not be duplicated or distributed in any form without written permission from the publisher: The Institute for Geriatric Social Work, Boston University School of Social Work, 264 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215, U.S.A.; e-mail: igsw@bu.edu.