Developing Relational Coordination: A Qualitative Study of Outpatient Mental Health Teams

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Previous studies have shown Relational Coordination improves team functioning in healthcare settings. The aim of this study was to examine the relational factors needed to support team functioning in outpatient mental health care teams with low staffing ratios. We interviewed interdisciplinary mental health teams that had achieved high team functioning despite low staffing ratios in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers. We conducted qualitative interviews with 21 interdisciplinary team members across three teams within two medical centers. We used directed content analysis to code the transcripts with a priori codes based on the Relational Coordination dimensions, while also being attentive to emergent themes. We found that all seven dimensions of Relational Coordination were relevant to improved team functioning: frequent communication, timely communication, accurate communication, problem-solving communication, shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. Participants also described these dimensions as reciprocal processes that influenced each other. In conclusion, relational Coordination dimensions can play pivotal roles in improving team functioning both individually and in combination. Communication dimensions were a catalyst for developing relationship dimensions; once relationships were developed, there was a mutually reinforcing cycle between communication and relationship dimensions. Our results suggest that establishing high-functioning mental health care teams, even in low-staffed settings, requires encouraging frequent communication within teams. Moreover, attention should be given to ensuring appropriate representation of disciplines among leadership and defining roles of team members when teams are formed.




Spitzer, E. G., Kaitz, J., Fix, G. M., Harvey, K. L. L., Stadnick, N. A., Sullivan, J. L., … Miller, C. J. (2023). Developing Relational Coordination: A Qualitative Study of Outpatient Mental Health Teams. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 50(4), 591–602.

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