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    Spotlight on Team Catalyst

    In August 2007, eight faculty leaders sat together in a room at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the AAMC  to develop the lessons of a professional development program that would open six weeks later. This program - the AAMC TeamWorks! program – would teach participants of various health professions to improve the work of their medical school and hospital based teams. The ironic twist is that it would also teach the faculty of the program to work as an effective and authentic team. This Spotlight on Team Catalyst is a story of individual and team development of faculty members as they worked together to produce a unique professional development program. Their experiences are described from interviews, team meeting records, and observations of the author.

    Are "We" a Team

    The TeamWorks! program presents a six-month course of study and practice of the work of enhancing team effectiveness. Participants learn about team behaviors, task management, and interpersonal dynamics while working in peer consultation teams within the program. The program design is supported by well established concepts of adult learning, effective team behaviors, and professional leadership development. It recognizes that team members enter this work as diverse individuals and must LEARN to work together as mutually accountable teams.

    TeamWorks! participants learn about team behaviors, task management, and interpersonal dynamics while working in teams. The expected results are enhanced team productivity and an impact of organizational improvement and personal leadership development.

    Indeed, when the faculty came together for their first meeting in Washington, DC, each was familiar with some of the concepts of learning in teams. The eight educational leaders chosen to teach and coach the lessons of the program were as diverse in their experiences as they were in their contributions in working with teams. Team Catalyst met the Katzenbach and Smith (The Wisdom of Teams, 1993) definition of a team: “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, a set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves accountable.” Faculty members complemented each other through diverse backgrounds of race, ethnicity, gender, education and skills.  With a shared passion for teamwork, all members were committed to working together as a team to produce a collective product - an effective learning program.  Faculty member Omar Khan commented: “We were a team from the start.  We had complementary skills, a common purpose of teaching/training health care teams, and we held each other accountable, for the most part.”

    Team Catalyst: Teaching and Coaching Assignments: Faculty represented diverse organizations and professions. They worked in partners to teach workshops and coach teams of participants, called consultation teams. As one of the first activities in their development, consultation teams gave themselves a team name, as depicted in the chart. 

    Team Catalyst Members Lessons/Workshops Consultation Team Coached
    Kevin Grigsby, D.S.W.
    Pennsylvania State University
    Teams as Tools for Institutional Change Team S'mores
    Valerie Williams, Ph.D.
    University of Oklahoma College of Health Sciences
    Temperament Differences and Team Creativity Bond. Team Bond.
    Yvette Pigeon, Ed.D.
    University of Vermont
    Learning in Teams and Team Communications Team Fusion
    Deborah Davis, D.S.W.
    Pennsylvania State - Hershey Medical Center
    Conflict & Decision-making in Teams Team 360
    Clyde Evans, Ph.D.
    Institute for Health Protection
    Temperament Differences and Team Creativity Team 360
    Linda Roth, Ph.D.
    Wayne State University
    Preparing for Institutional Enactment Team S'mores
    Omar Khan, M.D.
    University of Vermont
    Productive Teams Bond. Team Bond.
    Diane Magrane, M.D.
    Association of American Medical Colleges
    Learning in Teams, Team Consultation, and Visioning Team Fusion

    What Are "We" Here For?

    Their first meeting for faculty was called “A Taste of Our Own Medicine.” It was held six weeks prior to the program start so that faculty members could: (1) become acquainted with one another, (2) come together as a team to fully understand the lessons of the program, (3) agree on what they wanted to accomplish as a team, and (4) present their lessons to other team members for critical review, feedback, and interweaving of ideas. This was the beginning of their development as a team.

    In working in teams, a common misconception is that all team members share the same perspectives on the specific tasks, goals, and outcomes of the program. Aware of this misconception, the team set aside time at the outset of the meeting to clarify program goals and group tasks. As the Program Director, Diane Magrane reviewed the six-month program agenda to provide faculty a better idea of what would be expected of them in their coaching and teaching roles. Faculty responsibilities were to work in pairs to coach participant consultation teams and to teach the lessons/workshops. She also led the team in a collaborative discussion about specific program goals and outcomes. For Team Catalyst, this was an especially smooth process. The majority of the program goals and outcomes were previously defined in the inaugural program offered in 2006.

    With individual and group responsibilities identified, the team discussed lack of participation as one of the common problems in teams. Members of Team Catalyst agreed to look after the welfare of all team members by valuing the contributions of all team members and working to overcome differences of opinion by finding ways in which the team can come to consensus. In “The Discipline of Teams” (1993), Katzenbach and Smith propose that “team performance can be improved by setting clear rules of behavior and that all effective teams develop rules of conduct at the outset to help them achieve their purpose and performance goals.” In an effort to further define team structure, ground rules were created. The team decided that it would produce an agenda for each meeting and open with check-in and close with a formal debriefing. Debriefing would allow team members to discuss what went well or what needed improvement. They used a meeting record template that fosters team process and improvement (see Leadership Lesson: Tools for Effective Team Meetings). The team would also rotate roles of facilitator, time keeper and recorder.

    Team Catalyst Purpose:Team members put their heads together to identify exactly who they were as team. They agreed to name themselves “Team Catalyst” to reflect their dedication and commitment to transforming the work of health professions teams. Also in support of this commitment, they created a purpose that spoke to their shared personal values and credibility: to be an authentic team that leverages the abilities of each member to benefit TeamWorks! participants and improve the work of academic medicine.

    To be an authentic team that leverages the abilities of each member to benefit TeamWorks! participants and improve the work of academic medicine

    For the remainder of the meeting, faculty presented their lessons/workshops to the rest of the group. Having faculty experience the lessons before they were taught to participants gave them a head start in their own team development as faculty coaches. They gained insight into the knowledge, skills, and practices of the select principles of teamwork that would be taught in the program. Team members felt comfortable in their new team environment. They were appreciative to have the opportunity to improve lesson content and teaching performance in a “safe” environment where they could explore each other’s teaching styles and edit their upcoming lessons.

    Changes in Team Composition Affect Team Dynamics

    Literature supports that team dynamics are heavily influenced by the composition of the team to the extent that when the composition of the team changes, the team dynamics will also change. The TeamWorks! faculty comprised eight individuals; four of whom taught in the inaugural program and four of whom were newly recruited to the 2007 program. This blend of new and returning faculty produced a change in team dynamics that was noticed by returning faculty members. Team member Valerie Williams commented, “The change in team composition provided new perspectives to improving program outcomes. As a returning coach, I was delighted to hear more ideas and new ideas about how to make the experience valuable to the participants.”

    The change in team composition also brought forth the need to accommodate differences in personality styles, teaching styles, and perspectives on effective teams. Returning member Yvette Pigeon reflected: “Our challenge was to welcome new members and to initiate a collaborative dialogue to define who we were as a team, what we valued, goals, ground rules, share past lessons, and to honor the questions, knowledge, and skill set new members brought to the team.” The returning members enthusiastically welcomed new members and helped to create a warm atmosphere by describing their best coaching and team moments from previous team experiences. As this continued, future conversations became easier and more efficient.

    I Know What “I” Bring to the Team…But What Do “We” Bring to the Team?

    The learning behind the scenes became even more active and supportive when Team Catalyst met to guide the new participants for the opening of the program six weeks later in Irvington, VA. This was a five-day period of intensive learning and instruction. In addition to teaching participant workshops and coaching participant consultation teams, Team Catalyst met daily to debrief, adapt to feedback, and provide peer consultation on the challenges they were encountering in coaching the participant teams.

    Skilled in group learning techniques, faculty members exhibited a keen self-awareness of what they brought to the team and curious to learn what other members brought to a philosophy of teamwork. Team Catalyst meetings, which were often informal and late at night over dinner, facilitated open interaction. As the team shared information and worked to solve problems, individual team members were able to tap into the talents and experiences of other team members. Acknowledgement of individual skill sets helped the team to better assign individual and group tasks that would produce the most optimal results.

    Team Catalyst members actively integrated program principles into their lessons, coaching methods, and most importantly – their own team interactions. Specific ground rules that were previously established by Team Catalyst helped to bring order and productivity to meetings. Team member Linda Roth affirmed: “Ground rules, check-ins and debriefs, providing specific feedback to one another - all of these were great contributors to bonding the team.”

    Team Catalyst Embraces Conflict

    When Team Catalyst was asked to adopt a new internet-based tool to support the curriculum, some members greeted it with skepticism. The Blackboard course management system was used by team members to enhance communication and was important for coordination of lessons and group work products. The tool supported the work of virtual teams after participants left the initial seminar but carried on their joint activities from different institutions.

    The hurdles to adoption of group collaboration tools (e.g., weblogs, discussion boards, group spaces) produced what Amason refers to as ‘cognitive conflict.’ Cognitive conflict is defined as “task-oriented and focused on judgmental differences about how best to achieve common objectives” (Amason, 1996). This conflict enhances team function and decisions because it brings in a wider range of perspectives that are not achieved from individual perspectives alone. Faculty Coach Kevin Grigsby immediately recognized this conflict and led the team to “embrace” the conflict that was present. (Recall that this was one of the team’s ground rules). Each person took turns to address their frustrations, many of which were a result of generational differences in ease of technology application. As team members recognized that talking out their problems was important to their team development, a solution emerged. The team arranged to set aside time for the more experienced team members to assist the newer team members with course navigation techniques.

    Team member Valerie Williams described this ‘conflict’ as advantageous to team development: “I think the team conflict that brought us together was how to settle our issues on the role of Blackboard course management system. There were potentially good things about using it as a tool and there were not-so-good things about it. We all had to laugh about some of the issues that arose because ultimately we had to deal with problems that could not have been anticipated and come up with ways to work around them so that the participants could do their work together.”

    Lesson Transfer

    When Team Catalyst members made the commitment to become a high performing team of coaches that would apply the lessons of effective teams to their own team, they underestimated the challenges and time needed to simultaneously design a course, teach in the course, coach participant teams, learn new technologies for team communication, and advance their own learning about teams as they guided participants through the process of team development.

    Mutual respect and honesty, combined with shared accountability and commitment to team goals ultimately led the team to establish an effective support system for those who wrestled roles as consultation team coach, teacher, and team member. “It was definitely an odd experience to be simultaneously engaging in the dual role of team member and coach,” remarked Omar Khan. “But it became more natural and less contrived to be Team Catalyst as time wore on. This was powerfully illustrated by the team meetings we had during the ‘Team Dynamics Seminar’ – Team Catalyst was a place to process, to think, to talk out loud about the work of coaching and teaching.”

    Team Catalyst – What “We” Leave With

    Members of Team Catalyst admit to this being a profound experience. Clyde Evans reflected upon his experience: “In my entire career, I had never experienced anything with the multiple layers of TeamWorks! For me, the single most unforgettable aspect was simultaneously unsettling and exhilarating – it was the willingness and the expectation among Team Catalyst members to expose our "expert selves" to daily scrutiny and feedback. Everything was fair game for analysis - our lessons, coaching of teams, what was working and what was not, our confidence and comfort level with TeamWorks! itself, feedback and frustrations of participants, and the functioning of our faculty team. The daily team meetings gave us a safe haven in which to acknowledge the stress and use it to collectively find ways to adjust and improve the program in real-time.”

    Team Catalyst was an authentic team that brought to life the challenges and successes of becoming a team. They practiced the skills of teamwork to accomplish their team purpose “to become an authentic team that leverages the abilities of each member to benefit participants and to improve the work of academic medicine can be accomplished.” The teaching and coaching methods employed by team members contributed to the important institutional work of eleven research teams, five clinical improvement teams, and four educational teams at nine institutions. The closing session of the program revealed the personal growth, professional leadership development, and organizational changes of each participant consultation team and in participant home institutions. Team Catalyst met its expectations to “have fun,” to experience team development themselves, and to benefit both participants and the work of academic medicine.


    1. Katzenbach, J.R. & Smith, D.K. (1993). The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-performance Organization. Boston: Harvard Business School.
    2. Katzenbach, J.R. & Smith, D.K. (1993). The Discipline of Teams. Harvard Business Review. March-April 1993, 71(2):111-120.
    3. Amason, A.C. (1996). Distinguishing the Effects of Functional and Dysfunctional Conflict on Strategic Decision Making: Resolving a Paradox for Top Management Teams. The Academy of Management Journal. Feb 1996, 39 (1): 123-148.