Part II: Working as a Team

To provide some tips on preparing a stellar application for the Prostate Cancer Canada Movember Team Grants, we sat down with the PI for the inaugural Team Grant winning submission, Dr. Ralph Buttyan from the Vancouver Prostate Centre.
 

Can you tell us a bit about the overall importance of the Team Grants?

Team grants are an opportunity to bring together accomplished investigators with diverse yet complementary expertise under a collaborative umbrella to make much more rapid advances on important medical issues than the individuals in the team, working separately, could make by themselves.  Moreover, it is also an opportunity to pool knowledge, critical resources and equipment to tackle complex problems with the intent of achieving comprehensive solutions rather than just making incremental gains. Finally, agreements made during the formation of the team allows for knowledge sharing in an environment where all share in the accomplishments so it removes elements of competition that sometimes impede the transfer of knowledge between individual investigators.  
 

What are the challenges associated with working with a large group?

The greatest challenge is the scheduling acrobatics needed to get 22 different team members to agree on specific meeting/teleconference dates. In the end, one can only expect that, at best, two thirds might find an amenable time (especially considering the multiple time zones of a cross-country team). There needs to be special consideration of the management team since this smaller subgroup of the team should be expected to be able to attend most, if not all, of the regular meetings involved and this requires enormous dedication of the participants. Otherwise e-mail and smaller teleconferences through Skype were effective and enabled communication with all team members.  

A secondary challenge is ensuring that all team members feel that they have a role and are appropriately compensated.  For those team members that may have only minor roles in a project, we invite them to participate in our Management and Advisory Committee and to serve as reviewers for our competitive Training and Pilot Awards encompassed in our Training Core. With regards to the individual projects, we invited the PIs of each of the projects to construct their projects so that the project budgets were equally distributed (i.e., no project received a disproportionate share of funding).
 
 

What have you learned about cross-functional teams and collaboration as the result of leading a Movember Team Grant? What are the benefits of a multi-disciplinary team?

We have been fortunate to have assembled an extremely dedicated, affable and interactive team joined by our overwhelming enthusiasm to make a significant difference in the lives of prostate cancer patients. Our team dynamics allow that all have a voice and this drives mutual respect.  The common respect gained makes it easier to both give and take criticism on the progress of individual projects. The division of the work into separate projects that address a common theme allows that competing visions are able to be explored because, in the end, the entire team will be given credit for driving translational gains for the patient, regardless of the vision that gets us to that end the fastest.
 

What tactical tips do you have for working with a geographically dispersed team? How can a team leader maintain engagement of all participants throughout the project period?

When working with a large group, it is important to have regular meetings to keep up to date on progress and challenges in the projects. The PI’s meet at a regular frequency via teleconference but also try to get together in person at a regular frequency as well – sometimes we are attending the same national or international conferences anyway and can meet on a free evening. We are also planning an in-person meeting with all project participants for a mid-point check-in.

Links:
Part I: Developing Your Team Grant
Movember Team Grants

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