How Positive Leadership and Sociomapping Improved Communication in a Healthcare Organization

by Lucia Volpi and Marco De Angelis, University of Bologna

In this article, we’ll share insights from participants involved in two of the five interventions implemented at AUSL of Bologna, one of Italy’s largest public healthcare organisations and one of the intervention sites of the H-WORK project.

Interviews with participants help us understand how Positive Leadership Development and Sociomapping interventions transformed team communication in their working environment.

Positive Leadership Development, aimed at managers, provided group and individual coaching sessions to develop positive leadership skills like effective listening. Participants reported improvements in communication and delegation. Leaders found themselves able to feedback more constructively rather than destructively, and the individual sessions provided a safe place to reanalyse their behavioural patterns in response to conflict, with one attendee stating:

“It (the coaching) helped me a lot because it scaled problems down (…). It became a space to let off steam and, simultaneously, analyse everything in another way, not forgetting the guts, but also using the head.”

Sociomapping, on the other hand, provided a visual representation of team communication dynamics regarding the frequency and quality of interactions. By increasing participants’ awareness of informational circularity glitches, they could open up a conversation and define strategies for decreasing information concentration on focal team members, fostering coordination and sharing of information. As one participant stated:

“Now when I have things that may be of interest to my colleagues, even if you only have five minutes, though, we set up an informal meeting; that is, I take a moment, even if I have partial information, I present it as such and say: “If there are updates, I will tell you.”

Moreover, participants mentioned how they now prefer to chat appropriately with other medical teams. For example, a nurse offered a practical example of how the course helped inter-team communication as well: when once they would wait for the phone to become available, now they prefer physically approaching the neighbouring team when the phone is occupied. She believes this helped weave stronger ties, ultimately contributing to better patients’ quality of care.

However, some interviewees flagged problematic aspects of the interventions.

For instance, some felt that the online set-up of the workshop (due to Covid19) might have hampered participants’ engagement in team discussions. Also, some perceived workshops as an occurrence where people would share observations, but these insights were left “kinda hanging there” and not acted upon: “It seemed more like a series of remarks scattered over time, and that’s it.”

Moreover, the responsibility to act on the knowledge gained was perceived to fall upon each individual, limiting cohesive team change. Some employees felt that the intervention was valuable for personal and professional development, but they felt this improvement had not necessarily translated into gains at the team and organisational levels.

Employers should be mindful of how they communicate intervention expectations to encourage knowledge sharing and prevent framing interventions as individualised personal development progress. However, when asked about incorporating these interventions into organisational processes, most interviewees answered positively, stating that they could and should be implemented as preventative strategies. In particular, one interviewee believed that they should make these interventions compulsory, as the knowledge gained from Positive Leadership and Sociomapping represents the foundation for a sound approach to the medical profession, which heavily relies on teamwork and communication.

Creating a culture of communication and collaboration is critical to improving healthcare teams and ultimately providing better care for patients.

Interventions can help, but lasting change requires ongoing effort and commitment throughout the implementation process. By prioritising participants’ involvement and investing their perceptions of the interventions, healthcare organisations can strive for better intervention outcomes on mental health at work.