Image showing headphones and heart to demonstrate effective communication skills.

Promoting effective communication skills — success for NHS leaders!

When having potentially challenging and sensitive conversations, effective communication skills, and promoting psychological safety, is essential. But knowing how to develop them can the hardest part….

  • Client:NHS trust
  • Situation:The introduction of a new initiative ‘staff voice partnership’ to enhance effective communication skills between senior and junior staff members.
  • Challenge:Tasked with hosting intimate facilitated conversations with staff members at the trust, the leadership team were concerned as to how they would encourage team members to voluntarily share honest and difficult feedback. Moreover, if staff members were willing to open up, what would the appropriate response be to their sensitive feedback? How would the leadership team handle staff queries that may not have a favourable response? What steps could the leadership team take in order to allow staff to share without creating conflict?
  • Solution:2 X 2-hour workshops to train NHS directors to create psychologically safe environments and utilise active listening skills.
  • Result:NHS directors were confidently able to implement their learning during the ‘team talk’ events and team members felt comfortable sharing their experiences and reported feeling acknowledged by the senior directors.

As part of a range of improvements being introduced throughout the NHS network to enhance internal communications, the NHS trust we were working with developed a ‘staff voice partnership’ initiative. 

They recognised the need to develop effective communication skills between leadership and staff members, to get a greater understanding of what’s really taking place in their facilities above the data that they were receiving via standard reports. 

The leadership team , was made up of board members and non-exec board members, agreed to run various in-person sessions to support the initiative. These would take the form of ‘team talks’ — scheduled in-person events, and ‘pop ups’ — spontaneous interactions, whereby leaders would actively engage with staff in communal spaces, such as hallways and canteens. 

When it came to the ‘team talks’ it was proposed that members of the leadership team would sit down with staff members in a casual setting over tea and coffee. Staff would then have the opportunity to raise their concerns, ask questions, suggest areas of the service that need changing, and highlight ways in which they could feel happier in their roles. 

The metrics

9.5 recommendation score.

1 x coach.

2 x sessions.

19 x participants.

100% of participants believed that they would perform their role better as a result of attending the workshop. 


The ‘staff voice partnership’ initiative had been launched and the team talks were scheduled to be held regularly within the trust. However, whilst these plans were firmly in place, the leadership team were not confident in facilitating these voluntary conversations.  

The leadership team were also busy managing the trust, how would they make time to attend these talks and absorb the information they were being given? How would they convince busy staff members to engage with them in an honest and open manner? How should they react? And how should they respond to the various concerns of their staff members if they did indeed have the confidence to provide the leadership team with sensitive feedback? How could they avoid any conflict? They needed to develop effective communication skills to ensure both parties got the most out of these important conversations.

With many question marks hovering over the well-intended ‘staff voice partnership’ initiative and the first set of ‘team talks’ scheduled in a month’s time, the trust decided that training would need to be urgently arranged to ensure it delivered on its objectives. 


Having previously collaborated with The virtual training team to design a manager training programme, the learning and organisational development manager approached VTT to discuss their training requirements.

Initially, their brief was focused solely on active listening and training in effective communication skills, as the trust believed this skill would be key to the effectiveness of the newly introduced communications initiative. However, upon exploring the background to this request, our team discovered that there was a critical dimension missing to achieve the results that the client wanted — this was the concept of psychological safety

VTT designed a bespoke workshop, and delivered it twice, ensuring the training fit around the executives’ busy schedules. The 2-hour workshops covered a range of topics from establishing what psychological safety is and how to create a psychologically safe environment, to developing a listening mindset, deepening conversations, and enhancing their ability to communicate effectively


  • It was an extremely well-received and delivered programme. 
  • Shortly after completing the training, several NHS directors successfully hosted a ‘team talk’ event, creating a psychologically safe environment for staff members to express their lived experiences and concerns free from judgment. 
  • The directors could apply the tools they had learnt during their training to actively listen to staff members without rationalising or defending the feedback they were receiving.  
  • The staff members involved confirmed that they felt heard and acknowledged by the directors. 
  • Conversations that were once challenging, have now become opportunities for truth-seeking in this NHS trust, thanks to the effective communication skills of the leaders.

In training and learning terms this was a successful piece of work that's produced visible, measurable results. Absolutely… crucially, we can be confident that at level two, participants have learned something, and you can be confident that definitely at level three, they're implementing it in their actual day-to-day work. The fact is I've worked with Catherine before… I just felt confident because I'm aware of the standards that Catherine sets and I felt comfortable… [it was] very short notice for quite a steep ask and she sent me a proposal within 48 hours.

Learning and organisational development managerNHS trust

Engaging and relevant. Really liked how Catherine used the up-and-coming plans we have to engage with staff to help apply the learning in real-time. Use of technology was impressive too!

Programme participantNHS trust

Excellent workshop, very useful for board members and senior managers too.

Programme participantNHS trust

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