As an academic, the spring is a time when I have an opportunity to attend many ceremonies recognizing the accomplishments of our students, our faculty, and our staff. This year, after writing Team Leadership and Partnering in Nursing and Healthcare and spending a year immersed in thinking about the concepts of team leadership, I looked at these ceremonies with a vastly different lens. This vastly different lens has led me to ask the question—Are we missing the mark for recognition of teamwork in academia?

Allow me to explain. The future of healthcare is found in the work of highly functioning teams. We know that patient, administrative, and systems outcomes are enhanced by the work of teams. The science and practice of teamwork and team leadership is well established, and much of it has been captured in my book. Our role as educators for the future generations of providers of health care should be to facilitate and reward teamwork. And yet, how are we facilitating and recognizing teamwork in academia?

For those of you who are reading this blog who exist in the world of academia, think about this: How do you recognize and reward your faculty for their work? Typically, recognition and reward is based on individual accomplishments, right? We undertake faculty evaluation against a set of criteria that are remarkably individual in nature. We reward faculty with promotion and sometimes tenure based on their individual accomplishments. We look at faculty publications, presentations, funding for their work, and we reward individuals for them. While these things are rarely accomplished alone, but rather with the work of the team, the rewards are individual. We rarely even mention the work of a team in accomplishing those milestones, let alone incentivize it. Faculty awards are typically established for things like teaching, research, and contributions to service. Rarely do we find awards for the work of a team, or the leadership of a team. In fact, a simple internet search found no hits for nursing team awards in academia.

Think also about how we recognize our students. We award grades, establish awards, and induct students into honorary societies based on their individual work and accomplishments. While obviously an educational program is designed to enhance the individual’s knowledge, how do we impress upon our students that it is rare to achieve in today’s healthcare environment without the coordinated work of a team?

A paradigm shift from recognition of individual achievement to that of team achievement is long overdue in academia. It is our responsibility to position ourselves and our students to lead teams for the future. So, I challenge us to begin thinking about our reward and recognition systems in a different way — a change in the academic culture for sure — from one of recognizing the work of individuals, to facilitating and rewarding the work of teams. The future of healthcare depends upon it!