Group Competitions: Deceptively Powerful

By Chris Hermann

As part of laying the foundation with a new hospital customer, one of the first things we do is set up a group hand hygiene competition. We build teams based on shift, unit or job role, or we can create random teams to compete in a bracket challenge. Over several weeks, we offer prizes to the teams with the highest hand hygiene performance rates.

It may sound straightforward, but this simple tool is deceptively powerful and sets up a strong foundation for the overall success of our system. Here are the six ways group competitions successfully set the stage for behavior change:

  1. Teamwork. Humans love to support our tribes. Group competitions are all about the collective effort; it’s not that YOU need to clean your hands more often – WE ALL need to clean our hands more often. No one is being singled out – we’re all in this together.
  2.  Competition. Clinicians as a whole are very competitive. When we’re on a team competing against another team, the drive to win kicks in. If we can try just a little harder to help our team beat the other team, we will!
  3. Self-Motivation. While this phase of our process focuses on teams, the more self-motivated individuals will naturally embrace new hand hygiene behaviors and rise to the top. They generate their own behavior change with no individual conversation with management needed. They also serve as positive role models for others.
  4. Positive Culture. Competitions are fun, and approaching hand hygiene in a positive way rather than punitive sets a foundational tone that everyone can embrace and get behind (we’ve written about this before). With this solid foundation set, if management does need to have education-based conversations with a handful of individuals that are not responding, it comes across as far less threatening.
  5. Celebrations. We celebrate top performers, who encourage their teammates in their collective mission. Winning teams earn rewards, which drives behavior change. Who doesn’t love winning prizes and being recognized?
  6. Talking About It. A competition is a reason for teams to consistently talk about hand hygiene. This may be the most powerful change agent of all. As teams check their scores and standings, they constantly bring hand hygiene top-of-mind, which helps remind them to improve their performance.

Do group competitions work? Absolutely. A recent hospital improved their hand hygiene performance rates by over 40% with a six-week group competition.

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