What is teamwork?
The door kicks open and I almost scream, it’s so loud and sudden.
I find myself looking up into the pissed-off face of a fellow aide; I don’t know why she’s angry but I have a feeling I’m about to find out.
“And that’s why nobody wants to work with you,” she says, for all the world like she’s continuing some conversation we had earlier. “It’s because you’re so stuck-up and you don’t do teamwork. Never mind about the rest of us, you just stay in your own group. We don’t need your help anyway.”
And then, while I draw breath for something I probably shouldn’t say, she’s gone. I’m around the bed, almost out the door to follow her when another voice speaks.
“What a thoroughly unpleasant person,” remarks Mrs. F, the resident whose bed I was making. “Screaming at you like that without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’ to me. After all, it is my door she just kicked open. What does she mean, you don’t have teamwork?”
“I haven’t helped much today with communal chores,” I mutter, close to tears. It’s an odd reaction of mine that has often confused people: in public, I’ll cry more often when I’m angry than when I’m sad. And I’m ready to spit fire right now.
Mrs. F raises her eyebrows. “You haven’t had a chance; seems like you’ve mostly been in the bathroom with me today. You think she’d scream at me if she knew it’s my fault you’ve been stuck in here?”
I shrug. “She better not.”
“Well, I think you would be wasting your time trying to make that one happy.” Mrs. F nods firmly, like she’s laid down the law or something.
I can only nod, a sick feeling in my stomach beginning to dilute the anger. Was it anger or truth talking when she said that nobody liked to work with me? It’s been a bad day today and it’s true, I’ve hardly left my group. I’ve hardly had a chance, seeing as how I’ve basically just gone from room to room all shift, cleaning up the crap. It’s just been a bad day. I’m tired and hungry (my shift ends in two hours and I’ve yet to take lunch); I help out usually, this is just the exemption, right?
I have teamwork. Right?
What does it really mean anyway, to have teamwork? Some aides that I’ve worked with seem to operate under the principle “Teamwork is when you help me,” but when it’s one of your call lights on, they walk on by. Others get upset when you try to help them…I had a coworker yell at me, accuse me of “going behind her, checking her work,” because I changed one of her residents.
Truth is, you can’t just do your own work: there’s two-person assists, there’s trays to pass, dining room duties, etc. You’ve got to help each other out…and yet you can’t do everyone’s work for them.
I used to. I won’t do that again. Every shift seemed to end with me, worn ragged and leaving late because I’d helped everyone else and then had to do my work by myself. Hardly anyone would offer to help me and I had decided I wasn’t going to ask. Surely they’d come around, help me out without being asked. That was teamwork and I thought I could inspire it with a good example.
Instead it just seemed to make everything worse. Other aides got used to me doing more of their work, picking up the slack; eventually, they came to expect it. I resented them and they resented me when one day I just stopped doing everything.
Teamwork to me is developing a rapport with your coworkers, learning their routines and adjusting your own until you can coordinate with little communication. You help each other out. It’s a give-and-take.
The problem, of course, is long term care’s high turn over. That kind of teamwork is built over months, sometimes years of working together…truth be told, it’s a rarity. Most aides I’ve worked with are in-and-out within a matter of months. It’s hard to build a strong team when the members are constantly changing. This leads to another problem: the Exclusive Club mentality.
The core team members have known each other for a long time. They’ve been through hell together and they communicate in a kind of short-hand. Newer aides feel left out, feel like they’re being snubbed or treated as second-class citizens. I’ve seen this from both sides. I’ve seen old aides who wouldn’t even speak to me until I had been there over a month. I’ve seen new aides who’d cry “mean!” to my supervisors if I didn’t break off conversations to greet them immediately. On the one hand, it is good odds that this surly new person won’t last the month (let’s say 70/30), on the other, why should I stay in a place that doesn’t appreciate me?
And yet, if you bend over backwards to accommodate the new aide, that just feeds back into the “they expect it from you” angle. That golden “give-and-take” is such a delicate balance, a sliding scale between two mistakes: not helping enough and helping too much. Balance doesn’t happen on its own. You have to nurture it, work at it. It’s hard.
I take a deep breath. I don’t want to have to work with this person. I don’t know if I can ever really forget how much she’s hurt me with those words “and that’s why nobody wants to work with you”. I don’t think that’s true…but I’m not perfect. It could be true in part. I could have slid farther on the scale.
But teamwork…that can’t be make or break with me. I’m one person, not the whole team. The truth is, I’ve run around all shift, clearly swamped and she’s never offered to help me. Never even asked me if I was okay. I haven’t even eaten and she’s yelling at me…even if her claim is true, her response isn’t kind, helpful or appropriate. For all her talk of teamwork, I don’t think she’s showing very much. What bothers me most is that she did this in front of a resident.
Whether I make or break the team, in the end, all I’m responsible for is myself and the residents in my group. I have a responsibility to them, my residents, to be the best aide that I can be…both on my own and functioning in the team. So I take a deep breath, calm myself and head back into the hall. I’m not being paid to have a personality conflict, I’m being paid to take care of people and there isn’t time for both.
Sometimes I swear it’s like high school in here.