Thursday, September 3, 2015

Preconference Tidbit #7 - Relational Coordination model

by Paul Uhlig

This is the second of three Tidbits about models for studying collaborative care. Today’s Tidbit is about Relational Coordination.

Relational Coordination is a rapidly growing field of scholarship based on the work of Jody Gittell, a professor of management at Brandeis University. Jody will not be at the meeting, but is very interested in collaborative care.

Her model of Relational Coordination was initially developed when studying the remarkable success of Southwest Airlines. Jody studied teams that worked together at Southwest, for example, teams that worked to get the airplanes ready, boarded, and out of the gate. There were many roles on these teams including gate attendants, baggage handlers, pilots, and many others. Jody’s research showed that relationships between these roles at Southwest were notable for shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. These attributes, she concluded, led to frequent, timely, and accurate problem-solving communication—which in turn was the basis for coordinated collective action that drove high performance outcomes.

In other words, good outcomes were the result of well-coordinated collective actions, which were the result of good problem-solving communication, which was tied to good relationships. Because the coordinated actions originated in good relationships, the model is named Relational Coordination.

At the center of Jody’s work is a seven question survey that asks people in various roles to characterize their relationships and communication with other related roles.

Frequent Communication
How frequently do people in each of these groups communicate with you about [focal work process]?

Timely Communication
How timely is their communication with you about [focal work process]?

Accurate Communication
How accurate is their communication with you about [focal work process]?

Problem Solving Communication                 
When there is a problem with [focal work process], do they blame others or work with you to solve the problem?

Shared Goals
Do people in these groups share your goals for [focal work process]?

Shared Knowledge
Do people in these groups know about the work you do with [focal work process]?

Mutual Respect
Do people in these groups respect the work you do with [focal work process]?

The results of these simple measures allow mapping of relational networks and have been carefully correlated in validated ways with a variety of positive outcomes across many areas of professional work, including health care. The RC model underpins a broader approach to organizational management and operations that Jody is developing with collaborators across the US and internationally in accumulating research, evidence, and scholarship through the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative.

Although directly useful as a way of measuring relational ties, the Relational Coordination survey and the model it is based on are often used to inform, design, and monitor organizational interventions intended to improve relationships, communication, coordination and outcomes.

There are many parallels with the purposes and nature of collaborative care. The RC model proposes that

Relational coordination is strengthened by organizational structures that cut across functional silos – selecting and training for teamwork, shared accountability and rewards, shared conflict resolution, shared protocols, boundary spanners, shared meetings and huddles, and shared information systems. These cross-cutting structures require the redesign of traditional bureaucratic structures that keep people in their silos. 

For a good overview of this work, scroll through this PowerPoint:

To read more about Relational Coordination go to the RC Research Collaborative website:

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