Is Your Organization’s Communication Pattern like the Telephone Game?

By Greg Hunter, RT (R) (T)

      Beth Boynton, RN, MS


We’ve had our fair share of frustration at work.  Equipment failures, cumbersome new technology, unwillingness to assist one another, delayed delivery of blood supply or meds, uncooperative patients, and mountains of emails are just some of the work frustrations causing us wanting to leave. 

Perhaps of all the looming frustrations we have, communication patterns gone awry within our organization tops our list. As managers we wonder how at numerous times information we share down the hierarchy gets lost or changed along the way. As staff, we strain to see if our dilemma has been heard by the management. Sometimes as workers we proceed to do a task we thought was part of a team plan, only to be summoned by the manager who’d say,  “Why did you proceed without confirmation?”

The conflicts created by ineffective communication remind me of the telephone game I used to enjoy playing as a child. As an adult, I still do when they use that game to enhance team building. For those of you in the dark what the telephone game is, it is played by at least two teams who stand in a straight line. The more members of a team, the merrier the game is! The idea is that information that the first person who receives the information, which may be a phrase or a sentence, should be exactly the same information that the last member blurts out. Each member whispers it to the person next in line. 

The tendency is that in the chaos and the excitement that ensue during the game, the information that is passed from one person to the other get skewed along the way to the extent that the last person says a totally different information as that which came from the first person! The sillier the outcome is, the louder the laughter!

While this game is fun and enjoyable, the lesson it teaches us is profound. Organizations should have a system that should ensure a smooth and accurate relay of information that when it reaches its intended recipients, the information is as crisp as it was originally, free of unnecessary add-ons, and errors. 

In the healthcare sector, accurate and unadulterated information is pertinent in all processes especially those that ensures patient safety. Research says the most common cause of error in healthcare delivery is faulty communication. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? 

If one is to be vigilant about new updates posted online in their websites in a month, information just keeps pouring in. Amidst hectic schedules at work, you try to comprehend and put to practice new updates. Sometimes the frequency of updates can be overwhelming if taken on a yearly basis. At the end of your license renewal period, you might be seeing yourself forgetting half of that information, and another chunk of it poorly misunderstood.

The list of our examples where effective communication pattern is needed is a long one, but at the top of our list are the following:

  • Clinical trainings and education
  • Best practices and standards
  • Clinical trials
  • Revenue cycle information
  • Insurance
  • Manufacturers’ warnings and alerts
  • Staffing skills

 The challenges we face on the current methods of communication is numerous. Just like in the telephone game where individual interpretation and memory can affect the relay of new information, organizational communication patterns can be just as tumultuous. Our email system, for example, is one way because it cannot ensure feedback. Word of mouth are injected with own words and interpretations. Post-it notes get lost or may seem too small and insignificant to be noticed. New information also means numerous meetings that consume staff and management’s time and energy. The problem only gets worse when there are absentees. There is limited way to know if information reaching staff is as accurate as the management has intended to tell them. Even putting new updates in binders can make someone hesitant to pick them up and see what’s new. This is because of a persistent culture that says it’s quite embarrassing to open it, as opening it means you do not know.  

The ManageUP Solution

The telephone game teaches us valuable lessons, but we don’t want that game happening in real life within your organization. We help you keep afloat and not let you drown in ever-changing protocols and processes. We help provide transparency that will keep you and your team abreast of new updates and information. We ensure closed loop communication because we ask feedback and not just wait for it. Furthermore, we have a method that makes you implement new processes quickly and track progress all the way. Our centralized documentation through a common hub ensures accessibility of all information needed to run your organization. The insights are real-time.

Experience the ManageUP SQUEEZE®. SQUEEZE® focuses on the five pillars of a successful organization: Safety, Quality, Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Zest (morale), and uses proven communication platform that helps prevent the dangerous telephone game being manifested in your organization.



Effective Interpersonal Communication: A Practical Guide to Improve Your Life

Conflict in Health Care: A Literature Review

The Telephone Game