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Using Townhalls to generate engagement in a clinical team

One of the most common features we come across when working with clinical teams is an imbalance of voices. We are often asked to help redress that imbalance and bring about a more open, inclusive and fluid culture of communication.

Townhalls are really effective at kickstarting this process.

Speaking up and making their voices heard can be a real challenge for some members of a clinical team.

Often, the imbalance stems from where power is located within a group. Power can emanate from experience, seniority, hierarchy, background or personality (or a myriad of other places).

Those with the power are often unaware of their impact on those that don’t. The effect can be that certain people dominate proceedings, whilst others find themselves mute at the fringes.

There is a cost to losing those quieter voices.

Teams which welcome minority opinions and seek out diverse views from all parts of the group are more effective and have happier team members. Members at the fringes of groups often feel forgotten, alone and unheard. It’s not a happy place to be.

So how can we bring those quieter voices into the conversation?

Team members who don’t speak up in the day to day running of things are unlikely to appreciate being put on the spot. When we facilitate, we observe the tendency of those who feel comfortable filling the space doing so, and those who tend to remain quiet to do so too.

This is where Townhalls come in.

Townhalls are a forum for people to raise their voices in a psychologically safe and open way. They are run in the room by the team themselves, or by us as facilitators, and are (crucially) anonymous.

This is how they work: everyone is asked to take their phones OUT of their pockets – normally frowned upon in our work!

All members of the team log on to an online resource; we love Mentimeter though other apps are available. It’s free. The results screen is presented at the front of the room, live, before the group.

The team is presented with a series of questions, aimed at helping everyone get the issues that need to be talked about out on to the table.

We use questions like these, depending on the work context:

What should we be addressing as a team, which we’re not currently addressing?

What would you like those in leadership positions to hear from you?

What’s your ‘4am’ thing?

What could others do for you, that would make a real difference to your enjoyment of work?

They write their answers into their phone, and it pops up on the screen. Once everyone has finished, the team has a large amount of data collected in front of them to digest and analyse as a group, or with the aid of a facilitator. And because it’s anonymous, it takes the fear factor out of the disclosure of opinions.

We encourage teams to take this work forward by incorporating ‘mini-townhalls’ in their regular meetups – 5 minute check ins, to make sure no one is suffering in silence with an issue that the team should be engaging with.

Like the sound of Townhalls? Get in touch and talk to us about running one for you and your team! Read Oscar’s blog on Recalibrating communication for healthcare teams