Table of Contents
Abstract Page 3
Introduction Page 4
Problem Statement Page 4
Methodology: Review of Literature Page 5
Findings Page 8
Analysis Page 10
Conclusion Page 10
Improving team communication as a means of improving organizational function has been the subject of a vast amount of research. Much of this research focuses on specific types of organizations, and often takes a narrow view of what efforts have been undertaken and whether these efforts have been successful. There is a dearth of theoretical research in the field of improving team communication in terms of broad applicability to different types of organizations. This paper examines the efforts to improve team communication in the context of several different types or organizations and makes recommendations about several approaches used in specific organizations that may have applicability to a broader set of organizational structures.
In any organization, effective communication is a fundamental component of success. Management must communicate effectively with employees; department heads must communicate with team members; teams and departments must communicate effectively with each other. The proper dissemination of information is crucial to ensuring that expectations are not just met, but are first clarified and understood. A vast array of research has been devoted to examining, assessing, and improving organizational communication; particular emphasis has been given to critical organizations such as those found in the fields of nuclear energy, military operations, aerospace and aviation, and health care. In such organizations successful outcomes can literally mean the difference between life and death, and it is imperative that effective means of communication are established and utilized in such organizational systems. This paper will examine a number of different organizations wherein team communication is essential, both to determine what steps are taken to improve team communication in these different organizational contexts and to highlight those that have potentially broader applicability to other types of organizations.
While a wealth of information and data exists that examines and dissects the issue of how team communication can be improved, nearly all of this available information is surprisingly context-specific. Cursory searches on the general topic of “how to improve team communication” tends to yield results that are tightly focused not just on organization types, but on specific sub-types within those broader organizations. It is relatively easy, for example to find studies that discuss team communication within the context of an operating theater or critical care ward, while there is a concurrent dearth of information about how to improve team communication at the level of an entire hospital. Considering that the majority of accidents and negative-outcome incidents related to health care are rooted in communication lapses or failures, it seems self-evidently essential to find ways of applying what works in the operating room or critical care ward to the larger organizational context. Conversely, while more general means of improving team communication may be usefully applied to specific contexts, there is a startling lack of research into sifting the data to determine what fundamental components exist that can be applied to an array of different organizational types. The purpose of this discussion will be examine efforts to improve team communication in a number of different organizational contexts to determine what, if any, fundamental components in each of these efforts may be easily translated for and applied to other types of organizations.
A review of literature pertaining to research on improving team communication demonstrates that this subject is of significant concern not only for critical systems, but for any organization, from the operation of a small business to the functions of the aerospace and aviation industries. Professional sports teams must ensure that coaches communicate effectively with players and that players communicate effectively with each other; managers of businesses operating in the technological age must ensure that employees working in virtual environments overcome geographical and physical boundaries to work well together; doctors and nurses must communicate effectively to ensure the safety and health of patients; airline pilots must communicate quickly and effectively with flight crews to ensure safe landings; in short, any form of organization that requires the coordinated efforts of team members must ensure that these team members communicate effectively to achieve positive, successful outcomes.
Apker (2012) examines team communication in the context of health care organizations, with an emphasis on the ways that nurses and doctors communicate. Apker notes that many health care related organizations, such as hospitals, often demonstrate hierarchical structures that can thwart effective communication. In this framework, nurses may be hesitant to communicate concerns to doctors, or even to patients, out of concern for overstepping the boundaries of these hierarchical structures. To overcome these shortcomings in communication, Apker proposes the adoption of the “systems concept of interdependence,” emphasizing the need for doctors and nurses to understand that each succeeds when the other succeeds. The hierarcxhical structure in such organizations can predicate the sense that nurses function as one team, while doctors function as another; Apker posits that each must adopt the philosophy that the entire organization is the team, and recognize the value in allowing all team members to hear and be heard.
Garber et al (2010) address similar concerns as it pertains to the roles of nurses in health care organizations. The authors note that the subject of effective team communication is often addressed in the context of nursing education, but translating these academic lessons to practical scenarios can be challenging. This research emphasizes the roles of doctors and nurses in critical care units, where communicating with patients is paramount; while nurses typically spend a greater amount of time interacting with patients, they are often hesitant to speak openly with patients for fear of contradicting information imparted –or withheld- by doctors. Garber et all propose that the larger organization must develop a patient-centered culture that ensures all members of the team will prioritize patient concerns when making decisions about communicating with each other, with patients, or with patients’ families.
Bethune et al (2011) discuss ways of improving communication among members of surgical teams, asserting that the majority of accidents and negative outcomes in surgical settings arise from poor communication. This study examines a number of surgical team settings where briefings and debriefings were held before and after surgeries, allowing team members to discuss potential problems before beginning an operation and to discuss what went right or wrong afterwards. The teams that were examined in this study showed a marked drop in the number of negative outcomes after they established the protocols for briefings and debriefings.
McLaughlin et al (2013) examine the nature of team communication among members of the nursing teams of several hospitals. This study found that poor communication was often predicated on aggression and anger, and explored the efforts of the organizations to impose communication protocols. The study concluded that the most effective methods of improving team communication were those that emphasized the function of the overall team, while those that emphasized improving one-to-one communication demonstrated the least satisfactory results.
Coterill (2012) discusses improving team communication in the context of sports; this discussion includes some practical advice on assessing those things that can impede effective communication. Among these potentially-limiting factors are poor use of available time, and a lack of a consistent organizational culture. Many professional aheltes come from diverse backgrounds, thereby bringing with them an array of cultural, social, and linguistic differences. It is imperative that coaches and other team leaders find ways to reach common ground so that communication between leaders and team members, as well as communication among teammates, can be facilitated.
Frigotti and Rossi (2012) examine the issue of diversity within the context of improving tea communication. The researchers note that contemporary emphasis on the value of diversity within organizations may not always facilitate effective communication. While the researches recognize the significance of diversity within organizations, they determine that organizations must develop and organizational culture that supports consistent and viable means of communication which can be adopted by all team members.
Nemeth (2008) examines the ways that team communication efforts developed for critical industries such as nuclear energy, aerospace, and aviation have been and continue to be modified by and adapted to a variety of other industries. Nemeth proposes that the technological revolutions that spawned these industries have birthed the opportunity for, and the necessity of, developing new systems of team communication. Such systems eschew the top-down system of managing organizational communication that largely defined the ways that organizations historically manifested; in these critical systems, asserts Nemeth, it is imperative that information is shared in an omni-directional fashion. Further, it is necessary to ensure accountability, and to establish the same sort of pre- and post-operational briefings that are now widely used in a variety of organizations.
The available literature on the subject of improving team communication shows that there are as many different ways of attempting to improve communication as there are different types of organizations. Within the health care field, it is possible to find a variety of different types of teams; further, it is possible to find within these teams an array of different perceptions about what constitutes effective communication. Perceptions about what makes a team in these organizations can also vary widely; in one organization the doctors and nurses may see themselves as part of one large team, while in another organization the doctors may see themselves as members of one team and see the nurses as members of another team. Similar disparities and discrepancies can be found by examining nearly any specific organization within the broader organizational type.
There are some areas off common ground among many different organizational types where the issue of team communication is concerned. Even the most general advice about how to improve team communication will make suggestions about how individuals can improve their own listening skills (), how conflict can be avoided among team members (), or how organizations can take an active role in improving team communication. Concurrent with such consistent suggestions for improving team communication, however, there are a variety of methods and approaches that are more likely to be applied to some organizational types and less likely to be applied to others. Critical-systems organizations and functions such as aviation and surgical theaters have, in many instances, embraced the use of practical methods such as briefings and debriefings before engaging in operational functions, while organizations such as businesses have embraced the more general development of organizational cultures that value effective communication.
There are some examples of organizational structures that have embraced a complete philosophical overhaul of the organizational culture and have at the same time established specific, practical methods for improving team communication. One example of such an organization is the New York Police Department (NYPD), which established the CompStat system in the early 1990s as a means of combating rising crime rates and burgeoning costs. CompStat (which is short for “compare statistics”) is based on the use of real-time information related to crime statistics, resource costs and availability, and other factors to make rapid decisions about the deployment of officers and the use of department resources and equipment (Godown, 2008). Central to the success of CompStat is accountability: department heads and commanding officers use briefings and debriefings to make operational decisions and then to assess the success of those decisions (DeLorenzi, 2006). The information gathered in these debriefings is fed into the pool of information that is used to make future decisions, thereby making CompState a self-perpetuating cycle. Supporters of CompStat point to a significant drop in crime rates in New York over the last decade, as well as notable reduction of operating costs, as clear evidence that the model works.
The success of the CompStat model, as well as the success of other efforts to improve team communication and performance, can and do work. The available evidence also demonstrates marked disparities and differences in the methods and approaches used in different types of organizations, and offers little in the way of generally-applicable theoretical models that can help improve team communication in all types of organizations. These disparities are often split along practical and ideological lines, where efforts to improve team communication are either centered on specific action plans –such as the implementation of briefings and debriefings- or on philosophical approaches to changing organizational culture and instilling values-based approaches to the task.
It is not always a simple matter to measure whether efforts to improve team communication have been or can be successful. The applicability of different approaches to different scenarios is a paramount question, and statistical improvements in outcomes may not always be the direct results of improved communication. What seems clear, from an examination of the available evidence and information, is that the overall approach to improving communication could –if not necessarily should- embrace both the philosophical approach to improving organizational culture as well as the approach of developing practical, context-specific methods for facilitating team communication. This holistic approach to improving team communication will, at the very least, lead to a likely improvement in the organizational culture, and will at best lead to marked increases in successful outcomes for virtually any type of organization.
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