Working in Teams

Academic productivity such as writing grants and papers is critical for promotion, regardless of your track. Your productivity is largely self-directed but can be greatly enhanced by working in teams. As soon as you feel somewhat oriented to your academic job, try to identify groups of people who have similar goals, interests, and expectations to your own. You could work with other junior faculty in your department, especially if you have a common interest. Peer-mentoring and peer-academic writing groups may enhance productivity and enjoyment. Your teams could also include faculty from other departments in different specialties and non-physician colleagues with different training and skills.

Once you have identified your team(s), next set up regular meetings. If you meet less often than once a month, then you may spend the entire meeting getting back up to speed which does not build the momentum you need. You are better off meeting as often as weekly to complete a specific project and then taking breaks. Use your meetings to make charts, to-do lists, and timelines. If you have a team of people working on a series of related projects, you will get more done if different team members take primary responsibility for different individual projects. If you are going to be turning these projects into peer-reviewed papers for publication, then you can also rotate the order of authors on manuscripts.  Each person should leave a meeting with specific tasks to accomplish before the next group session as well as the date, time, and location of the next meeting. Table 1 illustrates one strategy for keeping track of academic projects conducted over a one-year period by teams.

Depending on the subject matter, it may be necessary to conduct different kinds of research in different venues to answer specific research questions. For promotion, it certainly helps to have participated in a variety of projects where different methods were used, which is another reason why you need those teams. Just as with teaching, promotion committees like to see that you can work with different research methods.

If you work on teams, beware of getting yourself into academic “gridlock.” Problems occur when you are working with a colleague who is not as organized as you are or who is working at a different pace. Maybe you want to get the paper done this month and she wants to get it done this year. Ideally, people on your teams are working at the same general level of academic productivity. If not, it can be incredibly frustrating when a project grinds to a halt because it is in someone else’s hands.

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