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Making sense of effective partnerships among senior leaders in the National Health Service

Mitra, Mahima; Hoff, Timothy; Brankin, Paul; Dopson, Sue

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000166

Background: Changing health care systems depend on strong organizational leadership that realizes the collaborative potential of both physician and nonphysician leaders.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to seek insight into the everyday health care leader experience by examining 24 physician and nonphysician leaders working in the U.K. National Health Service. We explored (a) how they make sense of and act with respect to specific collaborative tensions in their interactions and (b) which aspects of their everyday leadership contexts heighten the probability for producing and resolving such tensions.

Methodology: We conducted 24 in-depth interviews with physician and nonphysician leaders in job titles including Chief Operating Officer, Managing Director, Medical Director, and Clinical Director. Ideas from the social psychological perspectives of sensemaking, organizational role theory, and organizational citizenship behavior helped frame the study.

Results: We identified four areas of ongoing tension between senior leaders. Each of these was linked to a set of underlying drivers, with the strongest support for drivers with interpersonal roots. Effective strategies for resolving tensions involved significant effort by leaders at improving the interpersonal dynamics associated with everyday interaction and forging relational connections through enhanced trust within the leadership team.

Conclusion: This study outlines the organizational and individual characteristics that lend to effective collaboration among senior health care leadership and the types of collaborative tensions likely to be experienced by senior health care leaders.

Practice Implications: Organizations should provide greater role clarity for senior leadership roles, promote “soft” interpersonal competencies within them, and better assess potential leaders for success in senior roles. Organizational support in the form of facilitation, time, and spaces to learn together can provide a better context for collaborative decision-making.

Mahima Mitra, PhD, is Research Officer, Management in Medicine Programme at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. E-mail:

Timothy Hoff, PhD, is Professor of Management, Healthcare Systems, and Health Policy and Patrick F. and Helen C. Walsh Professor, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, and Visiting Associate Fellow at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Paul Brankin, PhD, is Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, Trustee at The Oxford Trust, United Kingdom, and Director, Oxford Executive Coaching Ltd., United Kingdom.

Sue Dopson, PhD, is Rhodes Trust Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Associate Dean of Faculty, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

Each author of this article warrants that he or she has participated sufficiently in the intellectual context, the analysis of data, and the writing of the Work to take public responsibility for it. Each has reviewed the final version of the Work, believes it represents valid work, and approves it for publication.

We would like to make the following declarations: This study was funded by the Templeton Education and Charity Trust; P. B. is Director of Oxford Executive Coaching Ltd., where he coaches senior doctors and managers in the NHS and other organizations.

This study was approved by the Research Ethics Boards at the University of Oxford (SSH_SBS_C1A_15_051) and the Institutional Review Broad at the Northeastern University (IRB#15-09-21). We would like to acknowledge the funding received through the Templeton Education and Charity Trust for conducting this study. We would also like to acknowledge the help received through P. B.’s organization, Oxford Executive Coaching Ltd., to identify the first leaders interviewed, as well as the majority of the following group.

The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationship with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

Online date: May 23, 2017

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