Enhancing Team Learning through Leader Inclusiveness: A One-Year Ethnographic Case Study of an Interdisciplinary Teacher Team

S.N.E. Meeuwissen*, W.H. Gijselaers, T.D. van Oorschot, I.H.A.P. Wolfhagen, M.G.A.O. Egbrink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Phenomenon: Developing modern medical curricula requires collaboration between different scientific and clinical disciplines. Consequently, institutions face the daunting task to engage colleagues from different disciplines in effective team collaboration. Two aspects that are vital to the success of such teamwork are "team learning behavior" by all team members and "leader inclusiveness behavior" by the team leader. Team members display team learning behavior when they share information, build upon and integrate each other's viewpoints. The team leader can promote such team learning by exhibiting inclusiveness behavior, which aims to encourage diversity and preserve individual differences for an inclusive workplace, nurturing engagement in teamwork. There is a paucity of in-depth research on leader inclusiveness behavior in the field of medical education. This case study aimed to offer unique insight into how leader inclusiveness behavior manifests itself in a successful interdisciplinary teacher team, demonstrating team learning behavior in undergraduate medical education. Approach: We conducted a qualitative, ethnographic case study using different but complementary methods, including observations, interviews and a documentary analysis of email communication. By means of purposive sampling, we selected an existing interdisciplinary teacher team that was responsible for an undergraduate medical course at Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and that was known to be successful. Chaired by a physician, the team included planning group members and tutors with medical, biomedical, and social sciences backgrounds as well as student-representatives. In the course of one academic year, 23 meetings were observed and recorded, informal interviews were conducted, and over 100 email conversations were collected. All data were submitted to a directed content analysis based on team learning and leader inclusiveness concepts. Findings: Leader inclusiveness behavior became evident from verbal and non-verbal interactions between the team leader and team members. Leader inclusiveness behavior that facilitated team learning behavior manifested itself in five actions undertaken by the team leader: coordinating, explicating, inviting, connecting, and reflecting. Similarly, team members facilitated team learning behavior by participating actively, speaking up behavior, and mimicking leader inclusiveness behavior. These behaviors demonstrated engagement and feelings of inclusion, and reinforced leader inclusiveness behavior by creating additional opportunities for the leader to exhibit such behavior. Insights: This case study responds to the need for inclusive leadership approaches in medical education. Our findings build upon theoretical knowledge on team learning and leader inclusiveness concepts. By studying behaviors, interactions and documents we obtained in-depth information on leader inclusiveness. Our findings are unique in that they demonstrate how leader inclusiveness behavior manifests itself when leaders interact with their team members. This study provides health professionals who are active in education with practical suggestions on how to act as a successful and inclusive leader. Finally, the behaviors identified open up avenues for future professional development initiatives and future research on team leadership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-508
Number of pages11
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number5
Early online date25 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2021


  • ethnography
  • interdisciplinary teamwork
  • leader inclusiveness
  • leadership
  • qualitative research
  • Qualitative research

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