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Compassionate team leadership and the pandemic

by Michael West

11th October 2021
This is an extract from Compassionate Leadership: Sustaining Wisdom, Humanity and Presence in Health and Social Care by Professor Michael West, published on 2 July 2021. Reproduced from Chapter 5. Compassionate team leadership and psychological safety by kind permission of Michael West

The need for belonging reflects our human desire to feel and be connected to others – to feel included, valued, respected and supported in teams and organisations, and to care and be cared for in those contexts1. There is abundant evidence to show that support from colleagues enables people to thrive in their work, helps them cope with difficult work experiences, and buffers them from the wider organisational factors that cause irritation and stress2. Exclusion, discrimination, bullying, incivility and chronic conflict have the opposite effect3. The support of health and social care colleagues for each other in teams has been movingly evident during the pandemic, enabling most to cope successfully in very challenging times.

Good practice would see all health and social care staff belonging to a stable ‘home’ team (where possible, multidisciplinary) that enables:

  • Involvement in quality improvement initiatives
  • A sense of belonging and social support
  • A space to discuss challenges, difficulties and frustrations
  • Opportunity for appreciation and recognition
  • Clarification of roles and responsibilities
  • Peer coaching and mentoring
  • Professional development
  • Leadership development and teamwork training

During the pandemic, some teams have become stable entities, so staff have felt more part of a ‘home team’. Camaraderie, daily briefings, huddles and regular time to discuss the work have dramatically improved teamwork. Some teams have a clear sense of purpose and have built cohesion and a sense of team compassion and support. Check-ins and huddles with the whole team, and having protected time to have lunch/coffee breaks together, have helped build belonging, cohesion and support.

“Switching off telephones at lunch and going out for lunch together – initially this was shocking. But the positive outcomes were incredible and everyone was so well rested. The leader in the team absolutely made sure this happened. It’s not all about the patient, it’s about the staff too.”

The pandemic has stimulated an extraordinary acceleration of more integrated ways of working in health and social care in some settings, with a significant improvement in the quality of inter-team working across boundaries. Staff have overcome communication challenges, adapting and developing new roles, and breaking down barriers to work across primary, secondary and social care.

Improved teamwork is just one of the outcomes of the blurring of hierarchical and professional boundaries – a contrast to operating in silos. Organisational and professional identities have been relinquished or relaxed as staff have transferred from acute settings to work in community settings when necessary. Additionally, cross-boundary working has become the new normal in some areas, with collaboration between primary, secondary care and social care and a range of volunteer and community groups. Ways of working have been transformed in a matter of days and in ways that were unimaginable just a few months before. All of this is testament to enlightened multidisciplinary team and inter-teamworking.


  • 1Baumeister, R., & Leary, M.R. (1995) The need to belong: disire for interpersonal attachents as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin, 117(3). 497-529.
  • 2Bliese, P.D., Edwards J. R., & Sonnentag, S. (2017). Stress and well-being at work: A century of empirical trends reflecting theoretical and societal influences. The Journal of Applied Psychology 102(3), 389-402
  • 3Pearson, C., & Porath, C. (2009). How toxic colleagues corrode performance. Harvard Business Review, 87(4).

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