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Case Study

How Community Health Network fosters peer connection through virtual physician leader lounges

10 Minute Read

Key Takeaways

The challenge

When physician leaders encounter challenges in their role, it can be difficult to get quick, confidential feedback from peers about how to lead through them. This can leave leaders feeling overwhelmed or unsupported and may result in disengagement and even burnout.

The organization

Community Health Network is an Indianapolis-based, non-profit health system with more than 15,000 employees. They have more than 200 sites of care and affiliates throughout Central Indiana including specialty and acute care hospitals, surgery centers, home care services, MedChecks, and behavioral health and employer services.

The approach

Community Health Network launched leadership lounges to provide physician and APP leaders with a confidential space to connect with one another and work through challenges. Lounges are hour-long, small group discussions facilitated by Community Health’s VP of Physician Leadership Development where leaders bring dilemmas they’re facing and brainstorm with their peers about how to lead through them.

The result

To date, Community Health Network has run approximately 10 virtual leadership lounges with a total of 25-30 leaders. The leadership development team has received positive feedback from participants, and those who attend appreciate the timely guidance from their peers. During the pandemic, lounges also helped combat isolation as leaders faced new challenges around rapid communication, safety and virtual connection.



Community Health Network started in person leadership lounges in 2018 to reinforce the teachings of their Physician Leadership Academy and give graduates a way to get targeted, confidential feedback from their peers. Prepandemic they were in-depth case studies; since Covid-19, the team pivoted to virtual drop-in sessions with multiple short cases. The goal of the one-hour lounge is to create a safe space where leaders can share real-life challenges and brainstorm the best ways lead through them.

Dr. Tricia Hern, VP of Improvement and Physician Leadership Development, Ann Ostrom, Director of Physician Leadership and Well-being, and the leadership development team run virtual leadership lounges on a monthly basis. To make it feasible for leaders to attend, they try to schedule them at a convenient time, such as in the evening. To advertise the sessions, they include them in their weekly provider newsletter and personally invite leaders via email. Before switching to virtual, the team would try to identify individuals beforehand who could present on their leadership challenges. Given the expanding demand on leaders during Covid-19, they’ve transitioned these sessions to an open space for leaders to bring any dilemma.

Groups tend to be small with 10 or fewer leaders to allow for better dialogue and facilitation. During the session, volunteers share a dilemma or question they’re facing for 2-3 minutes and the group spends 10-15 minutes asking follow-up questions. The presenter strictly listens first as the group discusses their dilemma, then after has the opportunity to share what they might do differently as a leader.

Leaders can bring any challenge they’re struggling with to a lounge. To date, most of challenges have been relationship-oriented, like struggling with a resistant provider in their group. The group typically tackles 2-3 cases in one one-hour session.

Focus on leading through a challenge, not finding a solution

While these sessions are heavily discussion-based, the goal isn’t to find solutions to specific leadership challenges. Rather, the aim is to provide leaders with guidance on how to successfully lead through the situation. The bulk of the meeting allows for leaders to collaborate and share ideas, but the facilitator may step in to reinforce the teachings of the leadership academy, such as self-awareness, trust, and two-way communication. Typically, the facilitator will ask questions to guide leaders away brainstorming a solution. For example, “who are some key stakeholders you might enlist to help move this problem forward?” At the end, the facilitator summarizes the themes of the session to ground participants in core leadership teachings and encourage them to incorporate these teachings into their next steps.

Encourage honest participation to reinforce a culture of learning

Community Health Network makes sure to establish confidentiality at the beginning of the session to ensure candid discussion. This, along with the informal environment and flexible agenda of the meetings, helps to create a safe space for leaders to open up about the challenges they’re facing and source input from others. These sessions give peers the opportunity to learn from one another and serve to normalize certain experiences as a leader, like feeling overwhelmed by the workload of the role. With a culture of leadership learning in place, leaders are more likely to seek help when they need it, and at Community Health Network, on demand one-on-one coaching is available for those who want additional support.

As you think about where to pilot these virtual leadership lounges, consider repurposing standing meetings or embedding them in existing leadership support services at your organization. If you don’t explicitly link it to a leadership program, consider targeting specific groups at your organization, like new or emerging leaders.



Lounges reinforce culture of learning and combat isolation

Community Health Network's virtual leadership lounges have been received positively by leaders and help reinforce the culture of leadership learning at the organization. Several participants have come back to subsequent meetings, not because they have a particular dilemma to discuss but to learn from their fellow leaders. For example, one participant shared that he attends meetings to offer his expertise and give back to other physician leaders.

Additionally, these leadership lounges help deter isolation, especially in the time of social distancing during the pandemic. Many new leaders are grappling with the difficult task of leading virtually and need extra support. As they take on the needs and challenges of their team, it’s important they have a place to unpack their dilemmas. According to Dr. Hern, “Even if it’s a group of four, that’s four people who need it.”

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