5 Ways to Improve Your Collaboration Skills

5 Ways to Improve Your Collaboration Skills

By Elizabeth Marcant, Contributor

Team work — or collaboration — is critical in the healthcare field. When nurses, doctors, health aids and other staff work together in a positive, meaningful way, they can save more lives, affect more positive patient experiences and reduce operating costs for employers. And those are only some of the benefits of nurse collaboration.

It's also important to realize that collaboration reaches outside of the clinical team. Housekeeping, administrative staff and even the patient and their family should all be involved in the communication and collaboration process to ensure comprehensive, high-quality care. 

Five Tips for Improving Nurse Collaboration 

1. Understand yourself: strengths, weaknesses and biases

In a paper for the American Nurses Association, Deborah B. Gardner, PhD, RN, CS, lists 10 things nurses must do to foster positive collaboration. Her first tip is "Know thyself." She goes on to explain that it's important for every individual within the healthcare team to understand their own values, assumptions and biases. Gardner says that one person can only absorb so much information, so your personal mental model picks out the information you think is important and considers it.

Every healthcare team member has a varying mental model, Gardner notes, making collaboration that much more imperative. This is why it sometimes takes a team of clinicians to figure out the right course of treatment or diagnose a particularly tricky issue. It's also why you have to know where your mental model is limited so you're able and willing to seek secondary advice from colleagues appropriately.

2. Value diversity

Secondary to her first point, Gardner goes on to state that nurse collaboration requires diversity. RNs who are willing to step outside of what they know and work with others who have different backgrounds, cultures and communication styles can close the gap on these mental models and find the best way to treat many different types of patients.

3. Work on communication skills

Catherine Burger, RN, BS, MSOL, NEA-BC is the media specialist for She says that communication is a critical aspect of nurse collaboration and that RNs should never assume that another person on the healthcare team simple knows when to pick up their piece of the work.

"Nurses should not assume that the housekeeper knows the patient is being discharged and a new admit is on their way," Burger says by way of example. "Communicate the plan in order to collaborate with other services in a timely manner and decrease frustration."

Discover five ways to improve your nurse communication skills in this article by Joan Fox Rose, MA, RN.

4. Build interdepartmental relationships

Burger points to relationships across departments and teams as critical to nurse collaboration.

"Build relationships across departments: Nurses who make connections with staff from outside departments can improve collaboration," she says. "Relationships also build empathy for the challenges in the other departments. For example, by understanding that the recovery room needs to get their patient to the floor because a surgery is finishing and needs the bay, the nurse will be more willing to collaborate on a plan to open a bed in the unit."

It's important to differentiate between multidisciplinary teamwork and interdisciplinary teamwork, with experts promoting the latter. According to Chapter 33 of Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, multidisciplinary approaches are those in which individual team members are responsible "only for the activities related to his or her own discipline and formulate separate goals for the patient." Interdisciplinary approaches involve more cross over, communication and joint effort.

5. Collaborate with the patient

Finally, don't forgot the patient when you're gathering information for decision-making or consulting the interdisciplinary team. Listen to your patient, advocate on behalf of his or her wishes and include them in decision-making and discussions about options with appropriate, layman's term explanations.

Nurse collaboration goes beyond teamwork with your fellow RNs. It's a cultural competency that requires working with and soliciting feedback from the entire healthcare team and the patient. 

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