Understanding adaptive teamwork in health care: Progress and future directions

Janet E. Anderson*, Mary Lavelle, Gabriel Reedy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Health care teamwork is a vital part of clinical work and patient care but is poorly understood. Despite poor teamwork being cited as a major contributory factor to adverse events, we lack vital knowledge about how teamwork can be improved. Teams in health care are diverse in structure and purpose, and most patient care depends on the ability of different professionals to coordinate their actions. Research in this area has narrowly defined health care teams, focused mainly on a small range of settings and activities and addressed a limited range of research questions. We argue that a new approach to teamwork research is needed and make three recommendations. First, the temporal and dynamic features of teamwork should be studied to understand how teamwork unfolds sequentially. Second, contextual influences should be integrated into study designs, including the organization of work, tasks, patients, organisational structures, and health care system factors. Finally, exploratory, rather than confirmatory, research designs are needed to analyse the complex patterns of social interaction inherent in health care work, to build our theoretical understanding of health care teams and their work, and ultimately to develop effective interventions to support better teamwork for the benefit of patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Health Services Research and Policy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • adaptive teams
  • interprofessional teamwork
  • research design


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