Building Effective Communication Networks, Part II: More Nerve Conduction, Less Bone Conduction

By: Felix Ankel and Michelle Lin (@M_Lin)

In Part I of “Building Effective Communication Networks,” we discuss how to build an effective communication network platform that includes a home base, embassies, and outposts. It should be noted that these communication networks are part of a broader web of informal networks that lie behind and complement a company’s formal organization chart.

Many health care and educational institutions have organizational charts that describe formal structures, titles, and lines of authority.  This network can be viewed as the skeleton of the organization, and its predominant communication paradigm includes e-mail and committee meetings.

However, much of the work done in any system is influenced by informal advice or personal learning networks, trust networks, and communication networks that complement the org chart. This web of networks can be viewed as the organization’s nervous system.

One Node in your Nervous System: The Communication Network Platform

Networks—whether personal learning, trust, and/or communication networks—are usually built around common areas of interest rather than titles or roles.

Effective communication networks, for example, serve as a hub for their common area of interest by focusing on the “3Cs”: they curate information for a community of practice to facilitate the creation of value. This communication platform often encompasses multiple communication tools that are used in an asynchronous manner.

Michelle Lin’s first-person case study, which follows, illustrates how ALiEM (discussed in Part I) launched a Chief Resident Incubator that was built on the foundation of the 3Cs:

Chief Resident Incubator: An Effective Communication Network

In 2015, ALiEM launched the Chief Resident Incubator for all EM chief residents in the United States. This initiative was launched for 2 main reasons:

First, many of us in academia see the annual struggles that chief residents go through, often without a support system or mentorship outside of their local institution.

Second, we found a communication platform that we believed could help address this challenge. In 2014, our ALiEM team shifted its internal communications infrastructure off of email and onto a more dynamic, real-time messaging platform called Slack ( Slack.com ). It has much improved the transparency and integration of team members across projects; the only “disadvantage” I have seen thus far is that it has been practically impossible to create a traditional org chart. Anyone can pop into any project’s discussion channel, listen, contribute, and leave at any time, with many of our best project ideas coming from people not originally on the team. This creates a very flat organizational structure with a collaborative working environment rather than top-down management, which may seem inefficient to the outsider but is actually the opposite. It is quite streamlined and efficient. Our culture is one of trust, giving others credit and the benefit of the doubt, inclusivity, rapid prototyping, action, open collaboration, and oh so many emojis 🙂

We wondered if we, as academic educators, could capitalize on our experience of building a dynamic, virtual community of practice amongst ourselves to build a similar community for EM chief residents, who previously have had no ongoing access to EM chief residents at other institutions. Could a Slack-based platform create an environment that would allow them to network, collaborate, learn, and share their experiences with each other? I am a firm believer that if you put smart, motivated, passionate people in the same virtual room or platform together, you really do not need to over-script the experience. Amazing things WILL happen.

The Chief Resident Incubator launched in May 2015 with over 170 chief residents. Thanks partly to an unrestricted educational grant from EBSCO Health/DynaMed Plus, we have been able to provide a VIP networking and curricular experience for the chief residents. We also have random giveaways of key leadership books to inspire them in their career. In addition to having them virtually meet leaders in EM on Google Hangouts and receive direct mentorship on leadership skills, a lucky few were also able to “hang out” with Dr. Richard Carmona (ex-U.S. Surgeon General) and ask him questions (see screenshot below).

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Furthermore, the Incubator provided a safe place for chief residents to talk about issues such as their careers, the fellowship application process, institutional policies, and CV writing. As the projects and conversations became quite overwhelming to keep up with, we recruited monthly email newsletter editors who would summarize key discussion points; provide links to documents, articles, and working Google Drive project documents; and disseminate upcoming deadlines.

I wish we could say that we prospectively planned to create an effective communication network with the Chief Resident Incubator, but in retrospect, we seem to have indeed met the 3Cs: curation, communities of practice, and creation of value.

  • CurationWe bring valuable external resources and website links for chief residents, as part of the longitudinal leadership and professional development curriculum. Furthermore, we curate our internal discussions into monthly newsletters to help them identify and remain connected with the ongoing discussions.
  • Communities of practice: The EM chief residents now can gather in a safe, closed community platform to network, collaborate, teach, and share with each other with an infrastructure that allows for mentorship as well.
  • Creation of value:  The Incubator is an illustration of Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory that knowledge is co-constructed and that people learn from one another. Furthermore, the products that the chief residents are creating are valuable resources contributing to the greater educational world.

I am incredibly appreciative and proud of the superstars who make up the ALiEM team. We are so excited about the future of our organization as we continue to grow as a blog-based, health-professions education innovation organization.

Tips for Building Effective Communication Networks

Best practices highlighted in Part I and Part II of “Building Effective Communications Networks” include:

  1. Supplement bone conduction with nerve conduction. Emails and meetings will only get you so far. Supplement traditional “org chart” communication with an effective communication network—as well as personal learning and trust networks—using multiple modalities in an asynchronous fashion.
  2. Incorporate the 3Cs when building effective communication networks: curation, communities of practice, and creation of value.
  3. Construct your platform. Be deliberate about the architecture of your home base, embassies, and outposts.

References

  1. Hyatt, Michael.  Platform: Get Noticed in A Noisy World. Thomas Nelson Nashville TN, 2012.
  2. Krackhardt D, Hanson J. Informal Networks: The Company Behind the Chart. Harvard Business Review, 1993 Jul-Aug;71(4):104-11.