Background: Health care organizations have suffered a steady decrease in operating margins in recent years while facing increased competition and pressure to provide ever-higher levels of customer service, quality of care, and innovation in delivery methodologies. The ability to rapidly find and implement changes that will lead to strategic improvement is critical. To assist member organizations in dealing with these issues, VHA Upper Midwest launched the Coaching and Leadership Initiative (VHA-CLI) in January 1999. The initiative was intended to develop new methods of collaborating for organizational learning of best practices, with a focus on generalizable change and deliberate leadership supports for deployment, diffusion, and sustainability. The emphasis was on the spread of ideas for improvement into all relevant corners of the organization.
Structure and process of the collaborative: The structure of the VHA-CLI collaborative involved four waves of demonstration teams during 2 years. Each meeting of the collaborative included an executive session, team learning sessions (concepts applied to their improvement projects), and planning for the 6-month action period following the meeting. An important feature of the collaborative is the way in which teams in the various waves overlapped. For example, the Wave 1 team for a given organization came to a learning session in January 1999. At the second collaborative meeting in June 1999, the Wave 1 teams reported on the progress in their pilot sites. This meeting was also the kick-off session for the Wave 2 teams, which could learn about organizational culture and the improvement model from the efforts of their colleagues on Wave 1. Wave 1 teams also learned about and planned for spreading their efforts to other sites beyond the pilot. The pattern of multiple teams stretching across two waves of activity was repeated at every meeting of the collaborative.
Success: Each organization in the collaborative has achieved improved outcomes around its selected clinical topics. In total, 26 teams have made significant improvement in 17 different topic areas. In addition, each organization has been able to successfully spread tested improvements to other individuals, teams, or locations, and the improvement work has become easier and more rapid with each successive cycle.
Conclusions: The learning process initiated by this project will continue for at least another year in the VHA Upper Midwest region and will be expanded as participating organizations in other regions enroll in the VHA's national effort.