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How to Know if Your Multidisciplinary Meeting is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothes

Multidisciplinary meetings are intended to be collaborative. However, many of the ones I observe are platforms that just reinforce the traditional power dynamics of the professional hierarchy for those at the top to move their agendas forward.

In today’s highly complex healthcare environment, collaborative multidisciplinary team meetings are vital to planning and delivering optimal patient care – with each member of the team bringing to the table an expertise that reflects a part of the patient experience.

Have you ever paused to think whether your multidisciplinary meetings are truly a collaboration among all team members?

How Do You Know?

To find out, next time you’re in a multidisciplinary meeting, or any meeting for that matter, pay attention to:

  • Who talks the most
  • Who rarely talks or doesn’t talk at all
  • Who interrupts others
  • Whose ideas get or don’t get attention or traction
  • Which members are allowed to direct or redirect the conversation through the following affirmative gestures: nodding as the members make their points and/or verbally supporting their comments afterwards

Your answers to these questions will tell you who is seen as more important than others and it will often mimic the unspoken power dynamics in your environment. Your answers will also give you an idea about the shared mental model of the group that reflects how group members approach and solve collective problems.

The Common Scenario

Professional hierarchy and gender are the most common factors determining power dynamics in meetings. Ask any nurse and she or he will tell you that if you want someone to listen to your idea, get a physician to present it. Better yet, get a male physician. Many female physicians tell me their ideas only got traction after they were deemed okay or reframed by the male physicians in their group.

Key Findings for Group Effectiveness

A study by Woolley, et al. (1) provides insights on how group interactions and power dynamics affect group performance. Using the analogy of individual intelligence, the researchers of this study sought to answer the question of whether there is such a thing as “collective intelligence” in groups of people. Their results suggested that collective intelligence does exist and it isn’t correlated with the average or the maximum individual intelligence of each group member or other factors we might expect such as group cohesion, motivation, or satisfaction.

Instead, the findings pointed to two correlating factors specifically noteworthy for building truly collaborative multidisciplinary teams: the need to be sensitive and appropriately responsive to the social cues demonstrated by the team members (such as tone of voice and facial expression) as well as the importance of roughly equal turn-taking in conversations.

Getting the Most Out of Your Multidisciplinary Collaboration

The best performing teams will be the ones that can maximize the contributions of each team member to create high levels of collective intelligence, and it all begins with awareness of the team’s dynamics. So, next time you have a meeting, observe for the points to pay attention to outlined above.

If you only have minor power inequities, you can make a substantial shift by tempering folks who speak more (e.g., “Thank you for your comment. Now let’s hear from some other folks…”) and encouraging others who don’t usually speak up (e.g., “I’d like to hear your thoughts on [the topic], [name], given your experience with it”).

If you have significant power inequities, have private discussions with team members about your goal to increase the collaboration. Share with them your observations and assessment of the quality of your team meetings. Ask those who dominate to hold their thoughts until others have spoken up, and ask those who don’t speak up how you can help them feel more comfortable sharing their opinions.

The effectiveness of your multidisciplinary team meetings hinges significantly on the shared and equal collaboration of each member. Steer your team towards the path of true collaboration. Otherwise, your multidisciplinary team meetings will be just one more avenue to reinforce the old guard.

Reference

1. Woolley, A.W., et al. (2010). Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science, 330, 686. DOI: 10.1126/science.1193147

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