Relationships, Networks and Multi-disciplinary Working

Some of you may have read through the recently published NHS Long-Term Plan and considered what this means for you, your role, service or clients.   One of the areas that struck me was the focus on person-centred care and the need for our health and care system to work in an integrated way.  A model of delivering primary and community care, based around a geography of 30-50,000 people is described, and within these primary care networks or neighbourhood structures, other services including our voluntary sector, mental health and community services would work together to support better population health outcomes.  It seems impossible to argue against this idea and on speaking to many frontline professionals and leaders, the benefits of this approach are vast, both from a professional and patient perspective.

However, the journey towards working more collaboratively and integrating services is somewhat complex, not only contractually, but also aligning multi-disciplinary teams together to work more effectively can be difficult.  Professional identity establishes early in our career – defining how we see ourselves and what we do. When we have this shared understanding of each other, it’s often easier to trust someone to deliver care.  Whilst we know working with different professionals is essential, it is sometimes easier to work with people we already know, who understand what we do and how we do it.  Trust is a big component in how we work with others and this takes time to develop.

Growing connections and building relationships amongst multi-disciplinary, multi-agency services will be vital to help us deliver the long-term plan.  It is worth asking yourself whether you have a diverse network around you, or if perhaps your network is formed of people who do the same role as you or work within your immediate team?  Whilst not always easy, we have to seek opportunities to build our connections outside of our own profession and immediate team.  It helps us to gain a broader understanding of the diversity of roles and services that co-exist to support people’s health and wellbeing.  It also allows us to show empathy towards each other and appreciate the pressures and stress many services experience.

As a leader, your network is also vitally important.  Many leaders are able to use their networks to influence change, source knowledge and information and tap into a wider personal support structure but first you have to be clear about your existing network and how this might expand.

So, I’ve identified a few questions that can help you think about your own networks:

  1. Draw a map of your own network – what professionals do you interact with regularly at work? Inside your own organisation and outside?
  2. What other people might be useful for you to know? How might you go about connecting with them?
  3. How well do you understand the roles / remit of other professionals you interact with? Are there any “assumptions” regarding what they do / don’t do?  What commonalities do you share?
  4. How can you help other professionals understand more about your role / service / profession?
  5. What do you do to maintain and strengthen those relationships?