14 January 2022

New research has explored how 'perspective-taking' can positively influence cultural and leadership change in a bustling health care environment.
Hospital worker answering phone

Perspective-taking refers to actively imagining and trying to understand the viewpoints of others by attempting to put ourselves in that person’s position. It is a concept often used in psychology to establish the foundations of positive and collaborative personal outcomes. However, most studies to date have only explored this phenomenon within controlled laboratory settings or self-reported surveys.

For the first time, an international team of researchers have approached the study of perspective-taking from within the context of a series of interlinked US hospitals.

Tom Calvard, a Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh Business School, said: "This study is among the first to take an in-depth look at perspective-taking across teams and organisations on a large scale, by interviewing many diverse staff in a field setting as part of a culture change intervention unfolding over time."

Working closely with collaborators Emily Cherlin (Yale School of Medicine), Amanda Brewster (Berkeley School of Health) and Leslie Curry (Yale School of Medicine), the team designed and ran a two-year 'Leadership Saves Lives' (LSL) change programme. Change coalitions of 15–20 key healthcare workers were formed at each hospital, and were interviewed at three key stages (baseline, six months, and 18 months) of the programme.

The change programme comprised a series of interventions with networks of coalition members focused on role clarity, shared accountability, and creative problem-solving. Interventions included on-site workshops with experiential learning, all-hospital annual forums, and web-based platforms for knowledge sharing and continuous remote support.

"The LSL brought people together from across organisation(s) into diverse, egalitarian change coalitions of staff, and they were encouraged to listen and share perspectives based around ideas of shared leadership, evidence-based best practice, quality improvement, and positive culture change,” said Calvard.

Over the course of the LSL programme, six out of ten hospitals reported reduced patient mortality and staff widely reported positive culture change. The data from the study showed that perspective-taking developed across a local interpersonal level (between two people working closely in the same hospital) and at a system level (multiple perspectives integrating across the whole health care system).

Additionally, perspective-taking also developed across three main inter-related dimensions of focus:

  • Affective (emotional experiences of others)
  • Cognitive (task and knowledge contexts of others)
  • Motivational (willingness to share with and listen to wider perspectives)

"The wider implications from the research and findings are that it is possible to develop inter-related forms of perspective-taking across diverse staff groups and organisations," said Calvard. "Although likely to involve challenges around diversity, conflicts, and politics, the research suggests that organisations can attempt to broadly build perspective-taking across their organisations over time with some success in relatively low-cost, low-risk interventions."

To read the full article in the Journal of Management Inquiry, please visit:

Tom Calvard a Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh Business School.