One of your roles as clinical group head is to communicate with your staff. Some people complain they never hear about things, others seems to encourage gossip and misinformation, and everyone complains there are too many e-mails. What is the purpose of communication and how do you ensure that you hit the right mark?

Communication is one of the most important overarching strategies for an effective group. While communication takes many forms, both formal and informal, the most important aspect of the communication is that it provides transparency.

Communication must be in multiple forms and venues. It doesn’t just involve newsletters and emails. For example, meetings should encourage open, respectful and candid conversations (look at Running a Meeting). Multiple disciplines need to attend and participate in meetings to provide the broadest possible discussion. Minutes from meetings should be disseminated broadly to all stakeholders (to inform and create transparency about decision-making). As noted in my previous blog post (Vision/Mission), retreats are an effective means to encourage grass roots involvement in the agenda for change. As I have also discussed in Developing an Agenda for Change, mechanisms for decision-making should be clear and transparent. Minutes from meetings can be an explicit demonstration of how and why decisions are made.

Newsletters are an effective route primarily to disseminate information. For example, newsletters can introduce staff to the service, serve as a forum for new ideas, and provide updates on important current issues. Websites are a vehicle to access essential archived information such as minutes, newsletters, and important announcements. While it is tempting to send out lots, e-mails should be infrequent. People are inundated with emails and increasingly tend to delete without reading. One strategy is to compile important information into a weekly email/newsletter that minimizes e-mail traffic and encourages people to open the one key e-mail once a week. Town halls are another communication strategy that are particularly suited to promote conversation on key topics, particularly for “hot” issues. Also, leaders should visit clinical groups on a frequent basis. If the groups are not too large, leaders should meet with their individual members frequently (see my prior post on Performance Management). Leaders need frequent casual hallway conversations with staff to build trust and good will. Huddles, hand-offs and safety checklists, if performed correctly, add to structured communication around key clinical issues. Structured hand-offs not only provide a forum for communication of key clinical information, but also serve as mechanisms to enhance multidisciplinary conversation.

Informal strategies for communication need to focus on the way communication occurs, such as minimizing professional hierarchies and formalities. For example, placing an expectation that everyone on the team be on a first name basis is important. Use of first names encourages candid conversations. Social events create friendships and less formal working relationships. Introductions at huddles, and/or writing team names on a white board in the OR or clinics encourage first names to be used. The aim is to reduce formality and create an atmosphere of respectful and honest conversation.

Even with all these strategies, leaders need to resign themselves that people will complain that no one told them about some important event or requirement. Don’t be discouraged and constantly look for new ways to reach out to the team.

In summary, communication has to be constant, multi-faceted, transparent and respectful.

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