The greatest strength of any multi-disciplinary team is also its greatest challenge – managing its diversity.
In MDTs, each person holds a unique perspective which contributes to the collective benefit of variations in values, expertise, cultures, and jargon. In difficult cases, members can become so focused on particular professional goals that they forget to seek or acknowledge the perspectives of others on the team. For this reason, miscommunication and misunderstandings can easily happen. Negotiating differences in preferred approaches, resources, or priorities are business-as-usual within MDTs.
Communication barriers can also create new conflict as well as exacerbate existing friction within teams. Informal communication practices – when, how, with whom, and in what volume people share information – can make some members feel uninformed, unheard, or unvalued, making them unlikely to fully participate. These communication challenges can generate higher turnover and low morale, in addition to losing useful complementary perspectives.
Strategies to prevent miscommunication and confusion
Miscommunication can hamper the success of any team, anywhere. The following tips can help avoid communication errors and confusion;
- Agree on what important words and terms mean.
- Clarify how communication will occur and how information will be shared.
- Distinguish the expectations that apply to confidential information.
- Be clear about who will receive certain information, when, and why.
- Make sure all team members understand each other’s distinct roles.
- Have important documents, protocols, and events stored in a place that allows easy access for reference and self-education.
Experts in any field can speak in such a way that seems foreign to outsiders. Each discipline has its own jargon and definitions. Some words may hold different meanings to those in different professions, leading to confusion among team members. It is important to acknowledge differences in communication styles and terms while also remaining open, transparent, and respectful of each profession.
Margaret Henderson and Rebekah Appleton relied on resources contained within the following to co-author this post:
- “Developing an Elder Abuse Case Review Multidisciplinary Team in Your Community” from the department of justice MDT toolkit. Drawing from primarily from chapter 3: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/mdt-toolkit
- “A Practitioner’s Perspective of Multidisciplinary Teams: Analysis of Potential Barriers and Key Factors for Success,” Psychological Thought, 2016, Vol. 9(1), 15–23. Retrieved from https://psyct.psychopen.eu/article/view/145/html#d2e259