Leading a Diverse Health Team


Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.”

~ Immanuel Kant

A few years ago, I worked with what I would call the most challenging team leader of any project.

This lady had no real interest in the project. The irony was, she fought for the ‘Team Leader’ position and would be upset with anyone who appeared interested in the role.

Once she got the role, she had no interest in seeing the success of the project. She would report to work and sit in the office reading a newspaper or drinking coffee. We did the project unsupervised -and pretty much led ourselves.

After one year of non-productive work, she was fired.


All health professionals will find themselves working with diverse groups of people. The people in your team will come from different professions, be different ages, come from different cultural backgrounds, and have varied experiences and expertise.

How you lead your team may make or break the team’s success.

The team members working with you will look up to you for guidance and will notice every decision and move you make.

Your success will depend mainly on how well you communicate and receive feedback.

In this article, I want to discuss five skills that will make you successful when leading a diverse health team.


  • Active listening

Listen courteously to what your team members have to say. Pay attention to what is being spoken as well as to non-verbal communication. The best leaders are actually very good listeners. If you always appear too busy to listen, or feel too important for people to reach you, your team members will lose respect for you.


  •  Pay attention to interaction among members

Pay attention to how different team members work jointly. Recognize the different roles every member contributes to the project or task. Watch how they communicate and interact among themselves and notice if it is positive or not. Prepare to calm any storms that may arise from differences in opinions.


  •  Expect resistance and prepare

Expect resistance particularly if you want to make changes. You will hear a lot of statements like; “we have always done it this way!” Or, “why do you have to change things?”

Plan to address these concerns in a way that everyone understands, or as best as you can. Avoid pretending you do not see the resistance.

Expect complaints and disapproval. The more illustrious your work is, the more disapproval there will be. Your team will respect you more if you can handle adverse criticism and channel it into productive hard work.


  •  Education

Have workshops or educational sessions to inform everyone about changes or new equipment.

Support everyone, compliment and encourage the team members. Value others, if you want them to respect you.


  •  Open communication

If you are unhappy with a particular person or their work performance, figure out a way to talk to him or her and bring about positive results instead of chattering behind their back. This will only invite disapproval from others and will expose you as a rueful person.

Stand up for yourself, your rights and for anything you acknowledge to be true. Be open and avoid surprising your team members by firing them without any explanation.

Leading a diverse health group requires these skills and more.

Share some of the experiences you’ve had while working with diverse groups.


This post was written as part of the Nurse Blog Carnival. More posts on this topic can be found at http://coleycares.com 

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  1. Excellent post that highlights the extreme importance of communication. I agree, Joyce and think that effective and respectful giving and receiving of feedback and a workplace culture that promotes and supports both can make a HUGE difference in patient safety, patient experience, horizontal and vertical violence, and career satisfaction! We can even have compassion for resistance if we consider that it is a symptom (or at least can be) of oppression!

    • Joyce says:

      I love that you point out that resistance is a symptom of oppression. We need to be able to communicate in a positive way that can address resistance. In the end, it is our patients who benefit.

  2. Joyce
    Thank you for the perspective of how to lead a team of interdisciplinary coworkers. My job title at my job is “team leader” so this really hit home. I agree with you that you have to be a great listener. I often hear so many complaints and I listen and take it all in and have to process how I should respond, if I should respond or what I should forward on to our manager. Expecting resistance has been something that I have had to learn while in this position, especially as we experience change daily in our ever evolving field and workplace. hospital wide we are restructuring our “team leader” positions so I hope they include the interdisciplinary team in creating this new role.
    Thanks for hosting!

    • Joyce says:

      Kelly. It’s always good to know that what one writes can impact someone directly. Wow! You are a team leader, what an important role. Even if as nurses our teams have as few as 3 people, these principles still matter. Resistance is something we have to expect, it is the hard part of team leading. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Carley says:

    Thank you so much for your post! Your honesty is great! And steps to improving the healthcare team are easy to follow and manageable.

    • Joyce says:

      Thanks Carley, I’m glad you find the steps easy to follow.

  4. Joyce,
    All great points here that not only point to a happier multidisciplinary team but also to patient safety and better outcomes!

    • Joyce says:

      Eileen, you say it well. It certainly leads to patient safety. When teams do not work well together, we don’t give our patients the best.

  5. Hi Joyce,
    You have provided a number of great tips! Being a leader of diverse people is hard work and does takes skill.
    I would like to add nurses with disabilities to the discussion. Paying attention to everyone, providing education if needed and open communication will help to facilitate inclusion of a nurse with a disability.

    • Joyce says:

      Thanks Donna for mentioning nurses with disabilities. When working with nurses with special needs, we have to be careful not to exclude their input or contribution to the team.

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