Interdisciplinary Teamwork Skills and Competencies

Author-Avatar Brandon Eddy

1/16/2017 8:21 PM

Teamwork is more than just sharing goals and updating colleagues on progress. Teamwork is about candor and collegiality, it is about an equal exchange and a shared benefit, and it is about a reciprocal relationship where learning is paramount and where there is no single “expert.” Teamwork may be described as a feeling as much as an action. Think back to one of your best teamwork moments; what was it that you enjoyed about that experience?

It is no secret that some teams work better than others, but what is it about these teams that sets them apart? Rogers & Nunez (June, 2013) define interdisciplinary teamwork as “a type of work which involves different health and/or social professions who share a team identity and work closely together in an integrated and independent manner to solve problems and deliver services.” A unique feature about this form of work involves sharing a team identity with joint problem solving and service delivery, which is in contrast to teams that come together regularly to provide services but have not established a shared vision (i.e., interprofessional collaboration).

Nancarrow et al. (2013) established a theoretical framework defining the characteristics of effective interdisciplinary teams. According to their study, effective teams:

  1. 1. Had a clear leader who demonstrates shared power, is supportive, and listens
  2. 2. Were comprised of individuals with communication skills and appropriate systems to promote team communication
  3. 3. Ensured opportunities for career development, training, learning, as well as individual rewards to improve morale and motivation
  4. 4. Established clear structure (e.g., team meetings, organization) and procedures which support the team vision
  5. 5. Featured a full staff of competent practitioners with a balance of personalities capable of complimenting each others' strengths
  6. 6. Demonstrate a culture of trust, nurture, and value of team member contributions
  7. 7. Contained experienced and knowledgeable team members who listen to others, understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and are interested in working on shared goals
  8. 8. Communicated a clear and consistent set of values underlying the team vision which drive the direction of service
  9. 9. Assessed quality of care and outcomes through regular feedback
  10. 10. Shared respect and understanding of each team member’s role, with autonomy of practice and shared power

Within the list of themes, it is likely that each of us can find one or more features that fit with our experiences of effective interdisciplinary teams. Based on their findings, Nancarrow et al. (2013) also delineated ten competencies that interdisciplinary teams should seek to achieve. These competencies can be a useful guide for professionals looking to establish an interdisciplinary team, or can be used to evaluate your current team practice to find areas of improvement.

  1. 1. Identifies a leader who establishes a clear direction and vision for the team, while listening and providing support and supervision to the team members.
  2. 2. Incorporates a set of values that clearly provide direction for the team’s service provision; these values should be visible and consistently portrayed.
  3. 3. Demonstrates a team culture and interdisciplinary atmosphere of trust where contributions are valued and consensus is fostered.
  4. 4. Ensures appropriate processes and infrastructures are in place to uphold the vision of the service (for example, referral criteria, communications infrastructure).
  5. 5. Provides quality patient-focused services with documented outcomes; utilizes feedback to improve the quality of care.
  6. 6. Utilizes communication strategies that promote intra-team communication, collaborative decision-making and effective team processes.
  7. 7. Provides sufficient team staffing to integrate an appropriate mix of skills, competencies, and personalities to meet the needs of patients and enhance smooth functioning.
  8. 8. Facilitates recruitment of staff who demonstrate interdisciplinary competencies including team functioning, collaborative leadership, communication, and sufficient professional knowledge and experience.
  9. 9. Promotes role interdependence while respecting individual roles and autonomy.
  10. 10. Facilitates personal development through appropriate training, rewards, recognition, and opportunities for career development.

When moving to a new position or becoming a part of an interdisciplinary team, leadership roles and mission statements are often well-established. It can be an anxiety-provoking experience when teams do not demonstrate these characteristics. Perhaps the most important step is to achieve a culture of trust within the team which may require time (e.g., perhaps other staff must understand your strengths, skills/knowledge, and how your personality fits with the team). After an effective culture of trust is established, using this framework may help to identify additional barriers. If barriers are preventing a culture of trust from being established (i.e., leadership challenges, lack of systems to promote interdisciplinary practice), addressing these steps with your team leader or management may be beneficial to improve worker experience.

Some teams may believe they have mastered each of these competencies, but we can always continue to improve our practices (i.e., assess quality and outcomes through feedback). One area of improvement for many teams may include equal team member contribution. Thylefors (2012) performed a study examining interdisciplinary team structure in four care sectors including occupational health-care, psychiatric care, rehabilitation, and school health-care. Through a survey and observation of simulated teamwork, they found that a professional hierarchy of verbal dominance exists with (1) psychologists, physicians, teachers, and social workers dominating team activities, then (2) therapists (i.e., SLP, OT, Physiotherapists, Audiologists), and at the bottom of the hierarchy were paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals were the least communicative in the study, yet these professionals often have the most experience and insight regarding the client (with the exception of parents/caregivers). The framework outlined by Nancarrow et al. (2011) can help guide us to improve these practices and enhance our interdisciplinary teamwork.

These studies express that teamwork goes beyond sharing goals or progress; teamwork is about achieving a shared vision and having individuals who are competent, skilled, and dream to achieve more together. Reflect on the “best teamwork moment” that you were asked to recall when you began reading this post. I hope you will use that moment and the guidelines established by these studies to evaluate your current team practice. How does your team promote active collaboration and discussion among each profession? Do you have an equal contribution of all team members?


Nancarrow, S. A., Booth, A., Ariss, S., Smith, T., Enderby, P., & Roots, A. (2013). Ten principles of good interdisciplinary team work. Human Resources for Health, 11(19), doi: 10.1186/1478-4491-11-19.

Rogers, M. & Nunez, L. (June, 2013). From my perspective: How do we make interprofessional collaboration happen? The ASHA Leader, 18, 7-8.

Thylefors, I. (2012). All professionals are equal but some professionals are more equal than others? Dominance, status, and efficiency in Swedish interprofessional teams. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 26(3), 505-512.

Speech-Language Pathologist,Educator,Parent/Family Member,Occupational Therapist,Physical Therapist,Researcher,Other,teamwork

This post is part of the collection

The Communication Matrix is a service of Design to Learn at Oregon Health & Science University
© 2024 Charity Rowland, Ph.D.

Site by State33 and Smith & Connors