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Team Science Learning Module

Acknowledgement

The Team Science Learning Module was created in partnership with the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), University of Virginia’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Environmental Research Institute. iTHRIV is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science of the National Institutes of Health Awards UL1TR003015/ KL2TR003016.  Contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views of the institution and/or the National Institutes of Health.

Special thanks to Belinda E. Hernandez, M.Ed., UVA School of Education and Human Development for researching and writing module content.   We are also thankful to the researchers, editors, and evaluators who donated their time, expertise, and knowledge to this project.  

Citation and Copyright

Please cite using the following format:
integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV). (n.d.). Team Science Learning Module.  https://guides.hsl.virginia.edu/teamscience/

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Making Effective Teams

For decades, researchers have sought to investigate an algorithm to design high-performing teams, eliciting several theories and models of team performance. Dr. Jürgen Habermas purpose the theory of communicative action, which highlights the importance of interpersonal communication (Habermas, 1985). Team collaboration requires individuals to understand one another making communication central in team science. All team participants must have a shared language to communicate effectively. As noted in the theory of communicative action, both sides of any communicative action must also understand the meaning of what is being communicated and the content must be understood by the receiver to be useful. For example, if two members of a team do not speak the same language, they will have trouble communicating or if a speaker is delivering a presentation riddled with jargon, then the audience will have trouble understanding it. Therefore, the process of how team members exchange information, interpret and create meaning of it, and verbally respond to each other is essential to consider to enhance a team’s performance. As such, strong communication across team members creates high-quality work leading to effective team performance. 

Other models have examined team performance according to the different phases of team development. Teams may experience several stages throughout their evolution, forming, storming, norming and performing, adjourning/transforming (Tuckman, 1965; Tuckman & Jensen, 1977) which impact team productivity. Although these stages of team development aid in capturing the different phases of a team, this model does not describe which factors contribute to a teams’ success. Researchers exploring team performance suggest there is an input-mediator-output-input (IMOI) model that results in high-performing teams, such that inputs lead to outcomes, but this process is mediated by cognitive, affective, and behavioral factors that explain variability and viability in team performance (Ilgen et al., 2005). For example, two teams with similar compositions (input) can perform (output) differently according to the type and quality of communication (mediator) within each team, and in turn, influence the input of a team (e.g., a strong sense of commitment v. social loafing). The IMOI model indicates team performance is nonlinear and contingent on individual and environmental mechanisms that can mediate team effectiveness. Thus, assessing the mediators that may impact a team’s performance is essential to designing highly-effective teams. 

The underlying dynamics of a team are essential to become keen on as they can potentiate or attenuate the likelihood that a team will generate effective work. In particular, a team member’s individual characteristics, as well as his/her ability to positively and effectively interact with others, can dictate a team’s productivity. As such, the elements to designing high-quality and high-performing teams lie within each team member. Two widely investigated concepts have been shown to determine a teams’ trajectory for success: intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. This section will cover the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that can improve performance in teams and result in higher quality experiences for team members.  

*Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.

Intrapersonal Skills

Intrapersonal skills are defined as the abilities that individuals possess within themselves, as well as their ability to regulate and manage those skills (Sambaiah & Aneel, 2016). Intrapersonal skills are important to teams as these skills shape team dynamics. Additionally, individuals must have the intrapersonal skills necessary to work in transdisciplinary teams and handle the complexities and tensions that result from this type of collaboration. The following intrapersonal skills are vital for team effectiveness: self-awareness, trust, attitudes about collaboration and preparation, and leadership styles.       

Self-awareness
Self-awareness is an active effort to engage in self-exploration (Bennett et al., 2018). As noted by Goleman and colleagues (2018), Internal self-awareness represents how individuals perceive their own values, passions, and aspirations; how these perceptions relate to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; how their perceptions may impact others. External self-awareness is the ability to understand how one is perceived by others. Both types of self-awareness are necessary for teamwork as collaboration often depends on a person’s awareness of their thoughts and feelings to contribute ideas, knowledge of their individual strengths and areas of improvement, as well as the ability to understand his or her impact on other team members (Bennett et al., 2018). Transdisciplinary teams can create tense environments that elicit strong emotional reactions from team members. Being unaware of one’s own strong emotional reactions may have repercussions on team performance, such as narrowing a team’s vision and creativity, lowering team morale, stifling a team’s curiosity and candidness, and hindering team members’ ability to recognize nuances in a project (Bennett et al., 2018). Having high self-awareness may provide individuals with greater control of their emotional reactions to others and improve the quality of team members’ interactions (Bennett et al., 2018) (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more information on self-awareness).

Trust
Trusting other members is a critical component of working in teams. Environments that are built on trust and ensure psychological safety allow for the integration of innovative ideas and enable participants to share concerns about the project, other members or present a dissenting opinion, which are all vital to team productivity. A lack of trust while working with others almost always leads to the disintegration of collaborative teams. However, steps can be taken to establish trust within a team and across team members. This includes, but is not limited to, cultivating a safe environment so that each team member feels comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas; ensuring that all team members are recognized and held accountable for completing their assignments; sharing knowledge and data with all team members (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more information on trust).

Attitudes about collaboration and preparation
Individuals with attitudes that are favorable toward engaging in integrative scholarship that bridges multiple disciplines are well equipped for transdisciplinary teams, including those that value collaboration, have favorable views towards sharing data and credit, embrace transdisciplinary work, and share egalitarian beliefs. Furthermore, individuals' readiness to collaborate, openness, and willingness to dedicate a great deal of time and effort towards working with individuals from other disciplines is essential for team science. Members must also be prepared for the outcomes that can result from conducting transdisciplinary work (i.e., uncertainty and disagreements) to have optimal success navigating this type of team (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more information on attitudes about collaboration and preparation).  

Leadership styles  
A successful team requires a strong leader with a leadership style that is less directive and provides all team members the opportunity to assume leadership roles in the project. Leaders should allow all members to play an active role in the team by creating a space where everyone can contribute to setting goals and making decisions. This non-authoritarian approach has been associated with highly productive and successful teams. Additionally, leading a research team requires research expertise and content proficiency, as well as strong interpersonal skills to have positive interactions with team members. Leaders should be able to communicate information clearly and decisively, articulate the team’s shared goals, and advocate for the team's vision. They should also empower and support team members, assign clear roles so there is no room for confusion, appropriately delegate responsibilities, and manage and address team members’ goals (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more information on leader characteristics).  

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are defined as essential abilities to deal with and relate to other people, mostly on a one-on-one basis (McConnell, 2004). Individuals must have strong interpersonal skills to work collaboratively and effectively on teams. Teams with individuals who have strong interpersonal skills are more likely to reach their vision and goals. Interpersonal skills also create the foundation for a team’s dynamic, such that teams with members who have effective interpersonal skills have more diversity, communication, conflict and disagreement, social cohesiveness, and respect.

Diversity
Teams that are high in functional and racial-ethnic diversity are typically more successful. Studies have shown that teams with a greater proportion of experts were more likely to have unproductive conflict and reach a deadlock. Therefore, having a variety of inter-and trans-disciplinary differences (e.g., knowledge, social skills, power) can serve a team well and allow for more productivity. Additionally, demographic diversity is more likely to contribute to stronger team cohesiveness when it is viewed as a strength. When individuals are aware and respect differences related to race/ethnicity, culture, status, personality, beliefs, and values, they can establish more profound bonds with other team members (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on diversity).

Communication
Strong communication is essential for teams as it can provide a concrete foundation to make progress on the project’s objective, mission, and goals. Teams flourish when there is consistent dialogue and an open line of communication between team members, leading to effective group functioning. Effective communication can also allow team members to openly share and discuss ideas, which can foster intellectual discourse that unearths innovative research possibilities and directions. A team that can communicate effectively can allow participants to practice having challenging conversations when conflict and disagreement arise, which are essential components of a successful research team (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on communication).

Conflict and disagreement
Conflict about differences in teams is inevitable, yet extremely necessary. Oftentimes, individuals fear and attempt to avoid conflict, without realizing that it is an inherent part of both human interactions and productivity! Conflict in a team does not make a team inadequate or any less effective. On the contrary, resolving conflict creates trust and social cohesion within the team as addressing one’s differences and working through them in a collaborative way can allow for everyone to feel heard and establish a foundation to resolve disagreements, ultimately bolstering team performance. Avoiding conflict can impede the project’s progress and sabotage the overarching research initiatives. It is also important to acknowledge and address conflict and disagreement as this can provide insight into what led to the conflict in the first place. In sum, conflict is neither negative nor positive but should be seen as an opportunity to establish trust and cohesion among a team and to increase team performance (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on conflict and disagreement).   

Social cohesiveness
Teams that are socially cohesive have a shared goal and vision, share recognition, and bestow credit where credit is due. Sharing a project goal and vision means each individual on the team understands the overall purpose and goals of the initiative and is aware of their role and how they contribute to the overarching effort and success of the project. Socially cohesive teams have a shared agreement on how they will promote each team member’s (e..g, junior researchers, research assistants) career growth, while also fostering an environment where individuals have roles in which they can receive appropriate recognition and credit. Another method of creating social cohesiveness is by sharing recognition and bestowing credit appropriately. Being recognized and receiving credit for one's contributions is essential for upward mobility in one’s career and for building trust. Teams must cultivate an environment that offers opportunities for every member to receive credit and recognition, and for teams to provide credit to all of those who contributed to a project, regardless of one’s career level. Therefore, teams should have a shared agreement on how they will provide recognition and reward to members in a way that is thoughtful and fair to all involved (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on social cohesiveness). 

Respect
Respect for fellow team members is vital to team performance. There must be mutual respect across all members of the team, regardless of a power differential. Fostering an environment where individuals respect one another will increase the likelihood that members will take on more responsibilities and accept accountability for success and failures. Further, individuals are more willing to listen and learn from those who they respect and when they feel respected. Thus, all group members should model respect for one another and respect differing perspectives and values as mutual respect is a necessity for establishing and sustaining high-quality relationships and effective teams (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on respect). 

Resources

Self-awareness

  • StrenghtsFinder 2.0: Studies have shown that people can increase their self-awareness through self-reflection (Bennett et al., 2018). To begin the process of self-awareness, you can reflect on your strengths and areas of improvement. A great tool for this is StrengthsFinder 2.0

  • SBIF Model: As reflected in Bennett et al. (2018), you can increase your self-awareness by asking for feedback on your performance. The Situation, Behavior, Impact, Future (SBIF) model is a good framework to utilize when providing and receiving feedback. 

    • When receiving feedback, the recipient should begin by thanking the person providing the feedback. The recipient should ask questions with a positive tone if clarification is needed. The recipient should refrain from responding defensively or providing an explanation for the behavior, as thanking them is appropriate. 

    • When providing feedback, the feedback must be constructive and explicit, to minimize ambiguity, and so the recipient understands their strengths and areas of improvement. The SBIF model suggests the following steps to provide specific feedback. 

      • Situation – describe the precise situation and location where the behavior occurred: “During our lab meeting on Monday, …”

      • Behavior – describe the precise behavior that was exhibited: “...you made a comment about my role and questioned my ability to execute my assignments...” 

      • Impact – describe the impact that behavior had: “...when you made that comment, it made me feel like I was not valued and that my progress was overlooked...”

      • Future – describe the behavior you would prefer that person to exhibit in the future: “I would appreciate it if you could address your concerns regarding my work ethic in private, and not in front of others for XYZ reasons …”   (reference Bennett et al., 2018 for more information). 

Additional Readings

Trust

  • The team can hold weekly meetings or conferences where all team members have the opportunity to contribute their opinion, present data, and receive feedback from others. This can help model and teach members how to provide and receive constructive feedback. Furthermore, scientific debate and exchange should be encouraged, such that ideas are challenged with the goal of enhancing a decision or conclusion. Finally, a process of handling disagreements about the project should be in place before conflict arises (see Bennett et al., 2018 for additional information on trust). 

  • A Collaborative Agreement can allow a team to document the project’s goals explicitly and specifically, and state how each team member will contribute to the project; it can describe how to handle sharing data, communication within and across teams, disagreements, and project management details; it can address administrative components of the project (e.g., finances, staffing); it can underscore potential conflicts of interest (see Bennett et al., 2018  for an example of a Collaborative Agreement).

  • Welcome Letters can increase trust among incoming members of a team. A Welcome Letter can include a description of every team member’s role, expectations of the team leader(s) and of other team members, as well as delineate the process following a disagreement. These letters can be written by the team leader or written collaboratively with other members. This letter should be updated to reflect any new changes (see Bennett et al., 2014 for an example of a Welcome letter).

Additional Readings 

Leadership styles

Additional Readings

  • Positive leader characteristics: Miller, W. R., & Miller, J. P. (2007). Leadership styles for success in collaborative work. In Annual Conference of the Association of Leadership Educators. Fort Worth.

  • Negative leader characteristics: (see Bennett et al., 2018 to see the negative leadership styles).

Diversity

  • The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative is a tool focused on guiding collaborative teams through structured discourse to achieve greater self-awareness among team members. The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative

Communication

  • There are three types of communication that teams can typically engage in: debate, discussion, and dialogue. Teams should strive to create a space that encourages dialogue between members as it has been shown to be the most effective for collaboration. The pictures below provide examples that distinguish the three types of communication (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on communication).

*Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.

Conflict and disagreement 

  • TKI: As mentioned in Bennett et al. (2018), one way to prepare for conflict is to understand that not everyone will react the same way to conflict and to be aware of one’s conflict style. People who work in productive teams are often placed in stressful situations. When under a great deal of stress, individuals will often resort to the conflict style in which they are most comfortable using as these moments do not always allow enough space for people to self-regulate and engage in appropriate dialogue. Therefore, it is essential to understand that everyone has a different way of dealing with conflict and the conflict style that is most productive depends on the situation. For example, a team leader who has an “avoiding” conflict style will likely overlook conflict in a team, which can allow conflict to burgeon and undermine the project’s goals and progress, promote segregation within the team, and invalidate one’s feelings. Thus, it is essential to identify your conflict style and understand the conflict style that is most appropriate for a given situation. Find out your conflict style with the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

Additional Readings 

  • Five conflict-handling styles: see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on handling conflict and disagreement, including Thomas-Kilmann’s five conflict-handling styles: avoiding, accommodating, competing, compromising, and collaborating. 

  • Tools for Productively Managing Conflict

Social cohesiveness

  • Collaborative Agreements and Welcome Letters: Team members should have a discussion and be in agreement with how recognition and credit will be shared. These decisions should be made before the project begins or before any work is done. In the event that these decisions cannot be made prior to the start of the project (e.g., authorship), clear and specific criteria and processes should be developed to make decisions that capture the extent of work that must be done to qualify for recognition (e.g, being an author, conducting analyses). Teams can develop criteria and create a process that determines how credit will be awarded through Collaborative Agreements and Welcome Letters (e.g., see Bennett et al., 2018 for examples of Collaborative Agreements, Welcome Letters and more information). 

Respect

References

  • Bennett, L. M., Gadlin, H., & Marchand, C. (2018). Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide, National Institutes of Health Publication, No. 18-7660 (National Cancer Institute). https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/organization/crs/research-initiatives/team-science-field-guide/collaboration-team-science-guide.pdf
  • Bennett, L. M., Maraia, R., & Gadlin, H. (2014). The ‘Welcome Letter’: a useful tool for laboratories and teams. Journal of Translational Medicine & Epidemiology, 2(2).
  • Gelderman, C. J., Semeijn, J., & Verweij, E. (2017). The effectiveness of cross-functional sourcing teams-an embedded case study in a large public organization. The Central European Review of Economics and Management, 1(3).
  • Goleman, D., Kaplan, R. S., David, S., & Eurich, T. (2018). Self-Awareness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series). Harvard Business Press.
  • Habermas, J. (1985). The theory of communicative action: Volume 2: lifeword and system: a critique of functionalist reason (Vol. 2). Beacon press. 
  • Ilgen, D. R., Hollenbeck, J. R., Johnson, M., & Jundt, D. (2005). Teams in organizations: From input-process-output models to IMOI models. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 56, 517-543. 
  • McConnell, C. R. (2004). Interpersonal skills: What they are, how to improve them, and how to apply them. The Health Care Manager, 23(2), 177-187.
  • Sambaiah, M., & Aneel, Y. (2016). Intra personal skills as core of the personality: some home truths. Journal of English Language and Literature, 225-231.
  • Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384.
  • Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), 419-427. 

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