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Do learning collaboratives strengthen communication? A comparison of organizational team communication networks over time

Bunger, Alicia, C.; Lengnick-Hall, Rebecca

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000120

Background: Collaborative learning models were designed to support quality improvements, such as innovation implementation by promoting communication within organizational teams. Yet the effect of collaborative learning approaches on organizational team communication during implementation is untested.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to explore change in communication patterns within teams from children’s mental health organizations during a year-long learning collaborative focused on implementing a new treatment. We adopt a social network perspective to examine intraorganizational communication within each team and assess change in (a) the frequency of communication among team members, (b) communication across organizational hierarchies, and (c) the overall structure of team communication networks.

Methodology/Approach: A pretest–posttest design compared communication among 135 participants from 21 organizational teams at the start and end of a learning collaborative. At both time points, participants were asked to list the members of their team and rate the frequency of communication with each along a 7-point Likert scale. Several individual, pair-wise, and team level communication network metrics were calculated and compared over time.

Findings: At the individual level, participants reported communicating with more team members by the end of the learning collaborative. Cross-hierarchical communication did not change. At the team level, these changes manifested differently depending on team size. In large teams, communication frequency increased, and networks grew denser and slightly less centralized. In small teams, communication frequency declined, growing more sparse and centralized.

Practice Implications: Results suggest that team communication patterns change minimally but evolve differently depending on size. Learning collaboratives may be more helpful for enhancing communication among larger teams; thus, managers might consider selecting and sending larger staff teams to learning collaboratives. This study highlights key future research directions that can disentangle the relationship between learning collaboratives and team networks.

Alicia C. Bunger, MSW, PhD, is Assistant Professor, College of Social Work, Ohio State University, College Road, Columbus. E-mail:

Rebecca Lengnick-Hall, MSSW, MPAff, is Doctoral Student, School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

This research was supported in part by a National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Traineeship (T32 MH019117) (AB) from the National Institute of Mental Health. Preparation of this article was also supported by the Implementation Research Institute at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, in St. Louis, through an award from the National Institute of Mental Health (R25 MH080916-01A2) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research and Development Service, Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI) (AB).

The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationship with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

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