Building Effective Teams in the Clinical Trial Schematic

by Steve Swanson

One topic that I am asked about with some regularity is leadership. Within that topic, the subject of effective teams is a popular discussion. Therefore, it seems appropriate to devote a little time and space to the question: What makes an effective team?

As a leader and manager, building effective teams can be a key factor in achieving your corporate and personal goals. Most professionals can readily produce first-hand accounts of both successes and failures. Let me share what I believe are components of building effective teams. For this post, I will focus on the role of the team leader.

Teams operate best with clear objectives, expectations, rules of engagement, reasonable accountability, and opportunities for reward. Leaders need to foster an environment of credibility and trust.

First, it’s important to establish a purpose or set of outcomes the team is tasked with fulfilling. In other words, why does the team exist and how long is the team expected to perform? Next, I think it is necessary to create rules of engagement. These rules can vary with the complexity and criticality of the team’s purpose, but let me give you a few examples:

  • Membership requires timely output.
  • Missed due dates are unacceptable. Ask for help before you run others against your deliverables.
  • You aren’t allowed to say something behind a team member’s back that you are unwilling to say face-to-face.
  • Issue opposition is acceptable, not personal opposition.
  • Individual opinions are allowed, not individual data. Share it so we can all analyze and interpret it to draw our own conclusions.
  • Scope creep is not allowed; stay with the purpose or needs statement.
  • Have an escalation policy for unanticipated events, quality problems or unresolved professional issues.
  • Direct feedback is valuable; it is not harsh, insulting or cruel.
  • Cross-functional membership is very important to avoiding future obstacles.

I think these provide some general guidance as you develop your own rules of engagement for your next team/project.

As you might suspect, communication can enhance or detract from team performance. Some additional communication tools can include practices such as these:

  • Agree on how to define terms. This is particularly important within global teams communicating across cultural and geographical divides.
  • Use proven communication methodology (e.g., appreciative inquiry, paraphrasing for understanding and confirmation, “Five Why’s” questioning, “6 Hats,” and other preferred/proven techniques).
  • Participate in active facilitation by selecting a skilled team member to redirect dominant voices and to ensure less dominant, but equally important, voices are heard.
  • Limit team size to an effective minimum to curtail unnecessary lines and complexity of communication.
  • Summarize your action items and determinations after each meeting. Distribute this to participants to minimize selective recall in more intense future discussions.
  • Allow sufficient time for the communication lifecycle to occur. For example, if you have 12 team members and five minutes for feedback and dialogue, then don’t expect much communication to occur. Rather, allow several minutes for dialogue per team member. I know that sounds difficult to schedule, but getting that communication now is much less time consuming than recovering from a delayed launch.

As your team begins to form, ensuring all requests are reasonable and time-bound can yield early dividends and help calibrate the team to performance. I also believe in using personality assessments and sharing them with team members. This serves to enhance communication by providing insights into how one best communicates with another based on respective personal style. Two examples that I have used regularly are Myers-Briggs and Predictive Index. There are other effective assessments as well which will suffice if you can utilize them. Many firms already have this profile information as part of their employee development.

As I wrap up this post, I have some final points for you to consider. Teams that work and collaborate effectively can be contagious in a larger team environment. How they are rewarded is a topic unto itself and perhaps a future post. Begin accumulating books by thought leaders, and then start building key components into your team dynamics. Finally, identify an effective team leader who can mentor you to improve your productiveness.

If you’re facing an issue, have questions, or want to share a recent success story about effective teaming, feel free to send me an email. In the meantime, I wish you success in your next team endeavor.

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