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Teamwork characterizes surgical teams that are faster learners of new procedures, suggests O.R. study

LINTHICUM, MD, August 7 - Comparing leading surgical teams that began adopting a new procedure, researchers suggest that those emphasizing organizational learning and teamwork learn faster than others with equivalent levels of experience, according to a study published in a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

In fact, the authors write, "An organization with less cumulative experience than its rivals can still achieve a performance advantage if it more thoroughly exploits its opportunities for learning."

The study, "Organizational Differences in Rates of Learning: Evidence from the Adoption of Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery," by Gary P. Pisano, Richard M.J. Bohmer, and Amy C. Edmondson, Harvard Business School, appears in the current issue of Management Science, an INFORMS publication.

Best Case, Worst Case
The authors offer a case study of one of the speediest learners in the study, a respected community hospital performing 1,200 cardiac operations a year. At this hospital, the surgeon who adopted the procedure for the hospital handpicked the team based on their prior experience working together and their demonstrated ability to work as a group. Team members began a high degree of cross-departmental communication and cooperation even before the first operation.

To build team feeling, the adopting surgeon made sure that the individuals who went to the training program performed the first 15 cases together before any new team members were changed.

Explained one doctor on the team, "The surgeon needs to be willing to allow himself to become a partner [with the rest of the team] so he can accept input."

In contrast, one of the worst performing hospitals is a large, nationally renowned academic medical center. This hospital picked team members largely on the basis of availability. Only three of the four core-team members who attended training were present for the first case. Th
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Contact: Barry List
barry.list@informs.org
410-691-7852
Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences
7-Aug-2001


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