Business manager Nicola Hewitson, who has been a practice manager for six years, spends between five to eight hours a week playing laser tag, while she plays table top war gaming once a fortnight.
Firing infrared beams and thinking up war gaming strategies have turned out to be important assets for Nicola, who makes full use of these skills even when managing her practice, Thorpe Road Surgery in Peterborough, where she has worked for three years.
Like many practice managers, Nicola did not specifically train to fit the role’s requirements. However, the skills she developed from her unconventional hobbies are helping her to tackle some of the daily challenges she faces at her practice.
‘Teamwork is far more important than individual skills’
Nicola has been playing laser tag for about 14 years, and in this time she has learned that the key to success, as with managing a practice, is working in team.
‘Communication skills, tactical thinking, and coping well under pressure are all essential to a winning team,’ she said.
‘A team could have the best individual player, but if that team loses their medic or ammunition carrier, the best player’s skills quickly become redundant because the team begins to run out of lives or ammunition. Similarly, you are at a disadvantage if your team resupplies too often. It’s a delicate balancing act, which has much in common with managing a team in the workplace.’
‘Losing the battle, but winning the war’
When playing table top war gaming, players need to me mindful that the game will evolve and there are tenfold of possibilities regarding which direction the game will take and it is important not to lose track of the bigger picture, Nicola warns.
She draws similarities with practice management and believes that just as wars force leaders to cope with limited resources, sometimes practice managers find themselves doing the same in their practice.
‘You find yourself having to make difficult decisions on one front in order to win on another (‘losing the battle, but winning the war,’ some might say), which will sound familiar to anyone dealing with the recruitment challenges and tight budgets of today’s NHS.’
‘Leave no man behind’
War gaming and laser tag have also helped Nicola tackle one of the biggest challenges she encountered in her career.
She said: ‘My practice stepped in to help a neighbouring practice during a difficult time. Balancing my workload at my own practice with ensuring the other practice was running safely and effectively was a huge challenge, and called on a lot of the skills above.’
Nicola Hewitson was rated number 14 on the MiP list, Management in Practice’s list of 25 outstanding practice managers.