Learning helpers: how they facilitated improvement and improved facilitation--lessons from a hospital-wide quality improvement initiative

Qual Manag Health Care. Jan-Mar 2004;13(1):60-74. doi: 10.1097/00019514-200401000-00006.


Quality improvement is a leading approach to the difficult yet inevitable task of managing organizational change. The literature suggests that facilitators can help organizations apply improvement principles and tools but it is unclear how facilitators actually do this and how they develop their own skills. Using a case study design we therefore examined how facilitators worked with 93 improvement projects in over 1000 sessions at one Swedish university hospital where systematic process improvement was successfully established over a 5-year period. They facilitated improvement by providing a framework and methods' support for improvement efforts--relying on experiential learning rather than didactic teaching--while letting clinical teams and managers maintain control over the content of improvement projects. They developed extensive experience that they documented and could transfer between teams, so that each team could benefit from lessons learned elsewhere. They improved facilitation through participant feedback and systematic review and reflection regarding their own practice. We suggest that facilitators can help organizations manage change by assuming responsibility for demanding tasks related to improvement work, developing specialized skill and extensive experience regarding improvement, and transferring insights across the organization, while using a learning approach throughout including to their own work.

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals, University / standards*
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training / organization & administration
  • Manuals as Topic
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Organizational Culture
  • Professional Competence
  • Sweden
  • Total Quality Management / organization & administration*