Getting back into the room

Oscar Mathew, director of the Medical Mediation Foundation, shares some insights from conversations with medics about reinstating face-to-face connections.

Working remotely has been a lifesaver for many teams, letting them connect and share throughout the pandemic. But has there been a cost, and how can we now reconnect?

Our work as medical mediators and facilitators involves helping people have better, more constructive, conversations. After more than two years of working almost exclusively from behind a desk, we're being asked more and more by healthcare teams to step back into the room with people to facilitate team discussions.

It has been a revelatory experience, and here are some of the observations we've gleaned from the last few months as we've started face-to-face working with teams again.

1. It's all about connection

Many people are finding a great sense of catharsis in just being back in the room together. The facilitations we've been running have been a great success for the healthcare teams we've worked with, but this is not (or not only!) due to the facilitation.

There is a great power in just getting people back in the room together, not only to focus on the logistics of working as a team but to engage with one another on that human-to-human level. It has been uplifting, exciting work.

2. A rare opportunity to reset the dynamic

We've sensed that for some healthcare teams who have struggled with their dynamic (particularly those dynamics impacted by organisational culture or the legacy of previous members), the pandemic has acted as a circuit breaker of sorts, shaking them free of repeating the same familiar negative cycles.

This has been called out on several occasions by teams, who want to use this 'resetting' as an opportunity to consciously heave off their historical baggage and start afresh. It's a choice that can be made.

3. Encouraging those quieter voices is more important than ever

We find that the really successful healthcare teams are those that pay attention to their interpersonal dynamic - trust, togetherness, psychological safety. One of the key determinants of an inclusive team atmosphere is a balance of voices and making sure that you're bringing in contributions from all parts of the team.

Quieter voices (which more often than not are more junior members of staff), can get lost in a team with too many overpowering voices that dominate the centre ground and control the narrative. There can also be a tendency in some teams to give more space to medical voices at the expense of others.

Over time, those quieter individuals can find themselves pushed to the fringes of the group, their opinion not sought or given credence when it is offered. They become almost invisible. The pandemic has exacerbated that and people who are working from home can feel excluded, alienated and as if their standing is being eroded.

The challenge for you as a member of a healthcare team might be: can you find a way of bringing those quieter voices into discussions more fully?

4. Reclaiming those 'nutritional interactions'

Many teams have identified the lack of incidental meetups and chance encounters in their work as one of the great losses of the pandemic. There is creativity, innovation, partnership and simple good human feeling generated by the conversations in the hallway, by a desk, or on the way to the train station.

An insightful consultant described them as 'nutritional interactions' - moments that spark positive feelings within the team, build teamwork and morale, and just make the day-to-day a bit brighter.

The healthcare teams we've worked with have been trying to find replacements for these moments (walking meetings being one particular hit), but there is no getting away from the fact that it's those moments of human contact that make all the difference.

5. We're still working through uncertainty

Resilience is often described as the 'ability to bounce back' from adversity. But does this fit with our experience of the world post-pandemic?

As our colleague Mary Fenwick puts it: "It just doesn't fit for this age. Resilience as a concept was originally often found in reference to engineering, and we're not machines. Right now, no one is doing a lot of bouncing... and back to where?"

As the pandemic moves forward, few of us are going back to exactly how we worked in 2018. There is a lot in flux in healthcare and in the world at large, and the uncertainty is in some ways just as pronounced now as it was before.

We've been encouraging healthcare teams to think expansively, courageously, but also to be aware of the need to pivot and be flexible in response to what may lie ahead - because we just don't know what that might be.

This article first appeared on and has been edited for publication.

This page was correct at publication on 09/06/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.