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Physician Leadership of Teams

Using a team charter to make sure your team is on the right track.

You could be a physician in clinical practice—or work for a medical device or pharmaceutical company.  Chances are you will need to be able to lead a team to achieve a desired outcome. 

Working in teams can be terrific—if team members work well together.  However, if people are pulling in different directions, the experience can be dreadful.  Without sufficient direction, teams can focus on the wrong objectives, fail to use important resources, or be torn apart with avoidable infighting.  What's worse is that they can fail, sometimes with dire consequences for the organization.

Creating a team charter is one of the most powerful ways a team can make sure it’s on the right track—and everyone is committed to the work of the team. A team charter is a set of agreements that define the purpose of the team, what it wants to achieve, why it is important, and how the team will work together. As the team encounters obstacles or roadblocks, the charter can serve as a “roadmap” to keep the team on course—and focused on the end result. 

As a physician leader, you can take an important step in guiding your team in the right direction. By using the chartering process, you can help your team clarify its purpose and values, develop goals and strategies to accomplish the desired outcomes, and create a written agreement that captures the common understanding.

For teams to get off on the right foot, team charters should be drawn up when the team is formed. This helps to make sure that everyone is focused on the right things from the start. However, drawing up a team charter can also be useful if a team is in trouble and people need to regain their view of the big picture.

Here is a checklist I’ve used in business to develop a team charter that can help drive momentum and keep the team focused on results:

Organization Mission, Vision, and Values

  • All team members can define—and are committed to—the mission of the organization (its reason for being)
  • Team members live the values of the organization—and set expectations for others to do so

 Team Purpose, Vision, and Values

  • Team members can describe what success will look and feel like
  • Team members can explain how the team relates to the larger organization
  • Team values are clear and guide how the team works together
  • Team members understand and are committed to the values of the team
  • Behaviors that reflect the team’s values are understood

 Team Operating Guidelines and ground rules

  • Team members agree to operating guidelines and ground rules
  • Team norms and ground rules are followed

 Team Member Roles, Responsibilities, and Accountabilities

  • Sponsor’s expectations are clear
  • Leadership roles are clear
  • Team member roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities have been agreed upon
  • Meeting roles have been considered—leader, scribe, time keeper, etc.
  • Team meetings are well-planned—when, where, and how long
  • Meeting agendas and minutes are consistently provided

 Goals and Deliverables

  • Team has developed “SMART” goals—which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound
  • Team has translated its goals into measurable outcomes, which team members own and are committed to working toward 
  • Deliverables are clear

 Communications Strategies

  • Coordination/communication with other teams or other initiatives is planned
  • Coordination among team members is well-organized
  • Communication channels among team members and other stakeholders have been developed

 Decision- Making Authority and Conflict Resolution

  • Decision-making methods have been explored and agreed upon
  • Limits on authority to make decisions are clear—what can be decided and what is recommended
  • The approval process for decisions or recommendations is clear
  • Information and expertise to make effective decisions are available
  • Team has discussed how conflicts can limit team performance, methods for conflict resolution have been discussed and decided upon

 Reassures and Support

  • Time demands on team members are understood and supported
  • Budget availability/constraints have been defined
  • Necessary training/skill development is available for team members
  • Access to relevant information is available
  • Necessary resources and support have been identified, how team will engage others and secure their commitment has been defined

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