Samia Chreim As the need to achieve more efficiency and better quality in the healthcare field intensifies, there has been a move to make better use of interprofessional healthcare teams. And the leadership and change dynamics on these teams, where members of different professional groups have to work together to serve clients, have become a hot topic for researchers like Professor Samia Chreim of the Telfer School of Management. The questions that intrigue her have broad implications for the training of healthcare personnel: how do people define their roles? How do professional cultures and professional mindsets influence how these individuals work together? And what happens to the boundaries used to define workplace roles?

“The power dynamics in these environments are fluid, with multiple people sharing roles,” professor Chreim observes. For example, there are boundaries between clinical leadership roles and administrative leadership roles. Other lines are drawn between formal leaders and other members of the team. There are also demarcations that help define professional skills, perspectives, and areas of expertise.

“Management happens at the boundaries – and many different types of boundaries have to be navigated,” says Dr. Chreim, who earned a best paper nomination for her exploration of this topic at the prestigious Academy of Management Conference in Boston last August. “The different boundaries may be open or closed in response to different needs; to achieve a particular team objective, for example, or to assert professional roles or autonomy.”

Dr. Chreim says it’s easy to understand why academics and practitioners are increasingly interested in these dynamics. They’re observable at the level of individuals, work teams, and institutions, and they are linked to major change: a shift in the way that people perform their roles, a move towards new work arrangements, a change in cross-organizational relationships and networks. “The research contributes an important narrative of how change happens in organizations, one that has great explanatory power in a time of intense debate over how to reshape the healthcare system.”