Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 20 21

James Lister, senior partner, C: Change Partnership

It is reasonable to expect that managers responsible for turning round ineffective teams would consider providing communication skills training.

As someone who provides such training, this is the main reason why private sector managers contact me.

They look for help when they have groups of staff whose operating culture is negative and changeresistant.

But there is a strikingly different pattern when I work with the NHS or healthcare organisations.

Healthcare managers get in touch when they are leading effective teams, not when they are responsible for failing teams.

It is when their teams are committed to demanding programmes of change management or service development that they see a need to improve team communication skills.

Last year, I had the pleasure of working with two unconnected teams of healthcare staff. Both managers knew their teams were working well, but for a number of reasons they had to become even more effective, strongly focused and consistently supportive.

Otherwise targets would not be met and individuals were likely to be overwhelmed by workload demands and pressures. The benefits of team development were seen as potentially very significant.

Capacity to manage change would increase, managers who were open, consistent and trusted would retain their staff more readily, morale would improve, and gaining a reputation for being 'good to work with' would facilitate partnership working.

It left me asking why it is that NHS managers are not contacting people like myself to provide training for the kind of less effective teams I meet in other organisations.

Why is it that communication training does not appear to be seen in the NHS as a way of responding to the needs of failing or underperforming teams?

The nature of the NHS lends itself to constant structural and staffing change, so it may be easier to overlook the impact of group culture than it is with less complex organisations.

It may also be that culture change in the NHS is firmly associated with service re-design rather than interpersonal communication skills.

It is a pattern that will ensure that good teams get even better, but is that what is most needed?