Serving as a leader is a privilege and a humbling responsibility—especially in pediatric health care, where the stakes and pressure to perform are so high and the consequences of mistakes can be so devastating.
That’s why throughout my career I have always looked for creative ways to connect with and get to know my teams better. Doing so helps me better understand where they find their passion and joy at work. I use that knowledge to find ways to help them perform at their best, which is a critical role of a leader.
One of the best ways I’ve discovered to do this is by swapping jobs with team members. That gives me a chance to walk in their shoes and to see the real-life context of their work that performance reports can’t convey.
How the job swap works
I traditionally swap with other leaders, but I have also swapped with frontline team members, like a cafeteria cashier. If you want an interesting perspective on the organization, work a shift behind the register during the busy lunch rush!
In the 13 months I’ve been at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, I’ve swapped jobs eight times. Before I start a new job swap, I spend some time becoming familiar with the unit’s key performance indicators to get a quantitative picture of the team and its work. Of course, the reason to spend time with them is to balance that data-based view with a more qualitative and nuanced picture of how they work together and the issues they face as they do their jobs.
One of my recent swaps was with our hospital's PICU co-manager, Jessalynn Parsley. The unit was very busy, with 26 high-acuity patients, including a child being treated following a serious car accident. I also had time to talk to team members about patient volumes, staffing and hiring challenges, and other top-of-mind issues.
I observed and listened carefully to a quality and safety huddle where the team reviewed the unit’s harm events and identified root causes. And at the end of their shift, I watched the co-manager conduct what we call “team member stay interviews,” asking each of them what the organization could do to support them as they continue to make an impact at Riley Children’s. This has become essential as staffing challenges intensify. The team seems to appreciate my interest in understanding what matters to them, and I am a better leader after hearing directly from our team members.
The benefits of job swaps
Job swaps are great fun but also a great learning experience for both participants. They give me a deeper and richer understanding of what it’s like to do different jobs around the hospital, and how the decisions we make as leaders can affect the ability of our teams to do their jobs.
Meanwhile, a day like Jessalynn’s gives the team member an appreciation for challenges that senior hospital leaders face in their jobs. The more we can understand each other’s perspective, the more we can serve as one team with our patients and team members at the core of all we do.
Job swaps also provide an important opportunity for team members to get to know me as a real person and not just a distant figurehead in an isolated executive office. This is important as we work to build a “one team” culture at Riley Children’s, where everyone counts and every job matters.
Leaders can only be effective if they are in touch with the teams they lead. It’s important to learn, reflect and validate perceptions by walking in the footsteps of our team members. Job swaps are a great way to do that while letting team members have some fun experiencing a day in the life of the organization’s leader.