The ability to work as part of a team is a critical skill for translational scientists, who by definition collaborate with scientists from other disciplines, institutions, generations, countries, and stages along the translational research continuum. Increasingly, translational science teams also include members of the community.

Yet for some, participating in team science is a challenge not unlike navigating a minefield replete with invisible tripwires. Enter CCTS One Great Community Chair and UAB Collat School of Business Associate Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship Dr. Anthony C. Hood, who is an expert on the emerging discipline referred to as Science of Team Science (SciTS). His presentation on the topic at a recent Health Services, Outcomes, and Effectiveness Research (HSOER) Training drew a large crowd of trainees looking for advice on how to successfully participate on a scientific team.

“Before beginning work on a project, every team should develop a ‘team charter’ so that everyone knows what is expected of each person, how each person likes to work, and how each team member’s schedule will impact the project timeline,” Hood advised. Some conflict can be avoided just by ensuring a clear understanding of team members’ roles, responsibilities, and preferences. More importantly, team charters ensure that members possess a shared understanding of the team’s overarching mission, vision and values.

Hood explained the major sources of trouble for teams: task conflict, which he defined as differing ideas, viewpoints, or opinions; relationship conflict, including interpersonal incompatibilities and annoyances; and process conflict, which is disagreement about how to actually get the work done or over workloads. One type of conflict can turn into another, and personalities can shift in response to changes in the environment. “It is important to know the type of conflict you are having,” he said, “otherwise it is difficult, even impossible, to resolve it.”

One of the keys to avoiding team conflict is to “develop a psychologically safe environment.” The team charter is part of this effort, Hood explained. Teams need many kinds of people, including those who are good at brainstorming ideas (Creatives), implementing ideas or taking action (Innovators), finding grants or commercialization opportunities (Entrepreneurs), and planning for the long term (Strategists). Team members, whatever their role, need to feel comfortable engaging in “risky interpersonal behaviors” such as speaking up, admitting errors, asking for help, and vetting information. They also need to feel valued and not distorted or rejected.

“The trick is to encourage moderate levels of intellectual tension—too much, and a team cannot complete a project appropriately. But too little task conflict hinders the generation of a team’s highest and best solutions,” Hood concluded.

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