Collaboration is Key

I attended the IHE North America Connectathon Conference this year on January 29th for the first time ever. I have been to several IHE Connectathon testing events, but never to the conference where the “suits” are. I was pleasantly surprised by the content and ensuing discussions over the course of the day. I was surprised to see that approximately 80% of the audience’s hands were raised when asked by one of the presenters who had never attended one of these events before. I think this is fantastic and represents that IHE is healthy and growing.

Keith summarizes the event nicely on his blog post here, so I will not be covering those details, but I do want to elaborate on the value of collaboration, which was a key theme that was presented and discussed at the conference. I have seen projects fail to succeed based on poor or no collaboration between the participants. Collaboration is challenging because of many different barriers including geography, language, and personality.

Sheer distance between individuals creates a natural barrier. It takes more effort to communicate when you are not face to face with your teammates. It can be done yes, but often times is not because of the extra effort required. Not being able to see body language, or pick up on other non-verbal cues makes for tough communication. However, this can be overcome through the use of video conferencing technology, chat tools, and other online collaboration tooling. When such tools are not available, careful consideration of how ideas are presented and discussed can be used to create productive outcomes on a remote conference call.

Language barriers can also impact overall collaboration efforts. Many of us come from different cultural backgrounds and speak different native languages, with different accents. While the ability to communicate is typically present from either teammate, the question comes down to the effectiveness of that communication. The effort required for someone to understand my native Georgian tongue, for example, may be somewhat challenging (probably an understatement!), or vice versa. However, I have found over the years that the more I work with individuals from other countries and backgrounds the better I am able to understand and also to be understood through the use of direct and plain language and clear thoughts. So this challenge is definitely something that practice and experience can help to overcome.

Personality is probably the single biggest challenge around collaboration. I have seen projects slow down immensly because of personality differences. To be able to stay above the personality conflicts and focus on the end goal is the sign of a team with a strong leader. Even in the absense of strong leadership to provide this guidance I encourage everyone to consider how they can help to better such a situation. Stay professional, focus on the mission at hand and keep asking if every conversation, work item, etc is somehow contributing to the successful completion of the mission of the project.

With the growing landscape of telecomutters we are seeing more and more remote collaboration. Joint work between SDOs, profiling organizations, governments programs, vendors, and patient advocates will ever more rely on remote collaboration. Yes, there are face to face meetings, but they are expensive both to the facilitator and the attendee, difficult to coordinate and often times result in low turnout. So as a participant in the healthcare IT movement in an ever-growing remote culture please think through how you as an individual can contribute to the overall success of any given project or initiative that you find yourself a part of in HIT. If we all become aware of our role(s) in the project, and study on how we can be most effective then we can transcend the above challenges and create successful outcomes!

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