New program focuses on team concepts

What do an astronaut and an orthotics and prosthetics student have in common? Turns out it’s the same thing trainees share with faculty members and with the facilities crew: the need to work well in a team.

Whether your job is in a lab, a hospital or a health sciences university, you have to communicate, negotiate and cooperate with other people to be successful. Nowhere is that more evident than in complex, high-risk situations like human spaceflight.

“A team is a group of people with complementary skills, sharing a common purpose and setting goals for which they are mutually accountable,” said Dr. Jonathan Clark at Baylor College of Medicine’s inaugural Team Launch Master Class Oct. 17.

Clark, associate professor of neurology in the Center for Space Medicine and a former space shuttle crew surgeon, is an in-house expert on teams. His military training prepared him to be both a leader and a follower, and to find meaning in each role. He described flying medical missions during Operation Desert Storm and working with the Spacecraft Crew Survival Integrated Investigation Team after the Columbia shuttle accident. Common to both experiences were the attributes of his teammates:

  • Dedication to the team and the mission
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Respectfulness
  • Resourcefulness
  • Optimism
  • Selflessness
  • Empathy
  • Emotional stability
  • Self-confidence

The College’s new Team Launch project cultivates these values in trainees across the School of Medicine, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and School of Allied Health Sciences through a mixture of guest speakers, games and other active learning strategies.

A recent Saturday morning found learners role-playing faculty members negotiating a collaborative research grant proposal. Then teams ran simulated hospitals through a hectic 24 hours of emergency department admissions, staff shortages and reams of paperwork. In debriefing sessions, they discussed how the team communicated and resolved conflicts.

“Researchers tell us that clinical knowledge is doubling every 18 months, and it is simply impossible for one person to have all the answers,” said Dr. Anne Gill, associate professor of pediatrics and medical ethics and health policy. “Regardless of domain – clinical, education or research – we will all have to work in teams to be efficient and effective.

“Becoming proficient in the ‘science of team science’ will better prepare our learners to function in the workplace of the future,” Gill said.

Orthotics and prosthetics trainee Cerise Knakal participated in the course because she understands the collaborative nature of her future profession. “As with all healthcare, one person is never responsible for a single patient. It was important for me to learn how to manage a professional team because I will rely on other healthcare staff to complete my job fully,” she said.

Knakal said the session with Dr. Eduardo Salas, an organizational psychologist and expert in team building at Rice University, was particularly valuable. “I learned that the most important component of teamwork is the culture. I would have thought communication was the most important but after Dr. Salas spoke to us, I am convinced that the community that rewards and supports teamwork will be the one that thrives in it.”

Launch Pad

A Macgyveresque activity had team members building a tower out of raw pasta and marshmallows.

Following the five-session course, learners may choose to use their new skills in an immersive team project, this year offered in the areas of commercialization, global health or patient health and safety. A capstone event will give team members the chance to reflect on their experiences and the project’s progress through written and oral reports.

Dr. Susan Marriott, professor of molecular virology and microbiology, invited faculty and staff members to get involved in Team Launch by attending upcoming Master Classes. “In professional life everyone needs to have teamwork skills and refreshers,” she said.

Additional professional development is available to those who want to be project instructors, facilitators, mentors or faculty fellows. The next Team Launch course starts Jan. 21, 2017. See the course schedule online.

Upcoming Master Classes:

  • Nov. 7 – “Getting to Yes and Dirty Little Tricks: Practical Tips and Negotiation Tactics” with Dr. Erik Halvorsen, director of the TMC Innovation Institute, 5-6 p.m., Cullen Auditorium. Prior to this class, Dr. Halvorsen would love to receive your war stories of successful or epically failed negotiations. If he uses your story in his presentation, names will be changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent. Submit your story through the registration form.
  • Nov. 28 – “Quality Improvement in Health Care Is a Team Sport” with Dr. Laura Petersen, director of the Houston VA Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety, associate chief of staff for research at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, and chief of the section of health services research at Baylor, 5-6 p.m., Cullen Auditorium