Recognizing and Managing Polarities: Essential Leadership Skills for Sustaining Interprofessional Healthcare

Sunday, Jul 29, 2018, 4:15 pm - 5:45 pm

For over forty years, there have been efforts to advance and sustain interprofessional education (IPE) and collaborative practice (IPCP). Despite these efforts, sustainability has remained elusive, and challenges ongoing and persistent. The presence of persistent, ongoing challenges indicates a polarity exists and is either not well identified or not well managed. Polarities represent an interdependent pair of values or alternative points of view that appear to be unrelated, competitive, or even opposites, but need each other over time to reach the desired outcomes, or greater purpose, neither can achieve alone. Polarities are all around us, they are unavoidable and unsolvable.

In IPE and IPCP, interdependent values are both needed for interprofessional teams to improve the health of individuals and communities. Yet, IPE and IPCP experience many polarities such as, individual/team competency, vertical (hierarchical)/horizontal (partnership) relationships, conditional/unconditional respect, candor/diplomacy, individual care/population care and patient satisfaction/staff satisfaction. What IPE and IPCP need is to identify and manage polarities, differentiating them from problems.  Traditionally, leaders in healthcare and health professions education are addressing the ongoing chronic challenges with implementing and sustaining IPE and IPCP as problems to be solved, because it is their default approach. When using a problem-solving approach, either/or thinking is applied. Leaders choose between solutions to solve the challenge.

By contrast, if the persistent challenge is a polarity, problem solving approaches will not work because polarities need to be managed using both/and thinking. The principles of polarities demonstrate that when a polarity is inappropriately identified as a problem to be solved the solution to the perceived problem is guaranteed to be a predictable result over time. Using both/and thinking to manage the polarity leads to sustainable outcomes over time.

For leaders in IPE and IPCP, where great resistance is often met, Polarity Thinking™ and tools to manage polarities may be useful for sustainable success and outcomes. Since polarities exist in IPE and IPCP and are unavoidable, leaders need skills to identify polarities and differentiate them from problems to be solved. The ability to map polarities and identify action steps and warning signs to manage the dynamic tension between the interdependent pairs in the polarity is also a critical skill for leaders.

Learning Objectives:

  • Distinguish between problems to be solved and polarities to be managed
  • Delineate the underlying polarities in Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice
  • Experience polarity exercises associated with Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice


Teaching Methods:
After a brief introduction to Polarity Thinking™, the presenters will engage the participants in a series of activities including: small group exercise of differentiating between a problem and polarity; large group exploration of the interdependent values present amongst participants; and small and large group engagement in creating an Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice map. During this workshop ongoing interactive dialogue during the polarity exercises will tap the wisdom of all the participants.

Social Media:

@misslinglogicLLC, #interprofessional, #PolarityThinking, #IPE, #ICP, #DynamicBalance


Interprofessional Continuing Education

This activity has been planned and implemented by the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education. In support of improving patient care, the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to provide continuing education for the healthcare team. The intent is to provide accreditation and continuing education credit for this workshop. For questions regarding continuing education, please email