Background. For patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) retrieval by surgeons, and assessment by pathologists of at least 12 lymph nodes (LNs) predicts the need for adjuvant treatment and improved survival. Different interventions (educational presentation, engaging clinical opinion leaders, performance data sent to hospital executives) to improve compliance with this practice had variable results. This exploratory study examined factors hypothesized to have influenced the outcome of those interventions. Methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 surgeons and pathologists at eleven hospitals. Clinicians were identified by intervention organizers, public licensing body database, and referral from interviewees. An interview guide incorporating open-ended questions was pilot-tested on one surgeon and pathologist. A single investigator conducted all interviews by phone. Transcripts were analyzed independently by two investigators using a grounded approach,ho then compared findings to resolve differences. Results. Improvements in LN staging practice may have occurred largely due to educational presentations that created awareness, and self-initiated changes undertaken by pathologists. Executives that received performance data may not have shared this with staff, and opinion leaders engaged to promote compliance may not have fulfilled their roles. Barriers to change that are potentially amenable to quality improvement included perceptions about the practice (perceived lack of evidence for the need to examine at least 12 LNs) and associated responsibilities (blaming other profession), technical issues (need for pathology assistants, better clearing solutions and laboratory facilities), and a lack of organizational support for multidisciplinary interaction (little communication between surgeons and pathologists) or quality improvement (no change leaders or capacity for monitoring). Conclusion. Use of an exploratory approach provided an in-depth view of the way that numerous factors amenable to quality improvement influenced the adoption of new CRC LN staging recommendations. Continued interventions targeting physicians and executives, in the absence of a receptive organizational infrastructure, may be fruitless. Individualized rather than regional or punitive performance data, coupled with increased organizational capacity for change may stimulate greater surgical and organizational response to quality improvement. Descriptive or experimental studies are needed to test these hypotheses.