What I learned: Control or Coordination?

I recently completed a consulting project involving a large jail healthcare system. The assessment and implementation of the recommendations was long and arduous due to politics, passive-aggressive behavior and an enormous bureaucracy. I was a subcontractor for this gig, working for a respected colleague and friend who “owned” the contract. We have different and complementary skills, and usually work well together. We struggled with this contract due to the issues above, but our biggest challenge was based on communication between ourselves about the project issues. We have very different communication styles and strategies.

This organization was the toughest I have ever consulted in. I believe they truly wanted help but didn’t want to deal with having a mirror held up or implementing the actual changes required to solve the problems. My colleague and I struggled mightily just to have our assessment considered accurate. As a result, we often got caught in others’ verbal crossfire. The question that kept coming up was “who was in charge?”

As a sub-contractor, I was often present physically but didn’t “own” the contract. I worked hard to identify myself as someone who “coordinated” work, but wasn’t in “control” of the work. I had to quickly identify a way to coordinate between us, without appearing to be “in charge.” It was difficult, especially when my colleague wasn’t physically present.

As a result, we had to adapt to this dysfunctional environment by talking frequently, not taking inappropriate staff behavior personally (not always easy when someone is insulting you!) and to improve our own communication so we didn’t fall into the same craziness we were witnessing.

What I learned is that coordination between colleagues is much more important than who is actually in control or in charge. It is crucial to accept that not everyone communicates the same way, and we had to work hard with our different styles. What matters most is that we did communicate, and completed the project in spite of the challenges. Can you tell when you are in control or when you need to coordinate your work with others?


Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN