Followership in interprofessional healthcare teams: A state-of-the-art narrative review

Erin S. Barry*, Pim Teunissen, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: A state-of-the-art (SotA) literature review - a type of narrative review - was conducted to answer: What historical developments led to current conceptualisations of followership in interprofessional healthcare teams (IHTs)? Design: Working from a constructivist orientation, SotA literature reviews generate a chronological overview of how knowledge evolved and presents this summary in three parts: (1) this is where we are now, (2) this is how we got here and (3) this is where we should go next. Using the SotA six-stage methodology, a total of 48 articles focused on followership in IHTs were used in this study. Results: Articles about followership within IHTs first appeared in 1993. Until 2011, followership was framed as leader-centric; leaders used their position to influence followers to uphold their dictums. This perspective was challenged when scholars outside of healthcare emphasised the importance of team members for achieving goals, rejecting a myopic focus on physicians as leaders. Today, followership is an important focus of IHT research but two contradictory views are present: (1) followers are described as active team members in IHTs where shared leadership models prevail and (2) conceptually and practically, old ways of thinking about followership (ie, followers are passive team members) still occur. This incongruity has generated a variable set of qualities associated with good followership. Conclusions: Leadership and followership are closely linked concepts. For leaders and followers in today's IHTs to flourish, the focus must be on followers being active members of the team instead of passive members. Since theories are increasingly encouraging distributed leadership, shared leadership and/or situational leadership, then we must understand the followership work that all team members need to harness. We need to be cognizant of team dynamics that work within different contexts and use leadership and followership conceptualisations that are congruent with those contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000773
JournalBMJ Leader
StateAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • development
  • effectiveness
  • followership


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