Setting Up Your First Research Team – Part 2 – Processes and Interpersonal Relationships

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So you have just gained your first grant funding as a PI and are setting up a team. In part 1 we looked at setting a team mission and goals and at making sure everyone knows their role and responsibilities within the team. Glaser and Glaser (1992) also described three other critical factors for team effectiveness as follows:

3)   Team processes

This covers a range of areas including how you are going to communicate within the team, how you will make decisions, solve problems and resolve conflict etc.

Communication is really key and things like setting up regular team meetings and one-to-ones with your staff will help with this.  However, we’ve all attended ineffective meetings so it is important to make sure that you make yours as useful as possible.  Ask team members for feedback on whether the meetings are useful and if something doesn’t quite work the first time, change the format.

Team meetings can be used for team members to give updates on their work, for you to pass on any information they need and also to make any decisions that need team input. Some people find an advance agenda helpful so that they have time to think about anything you need their input on. Another useful way of using team meetings is for members of the team to present their work. This will give them valuable practice at presenting and at asking questions and offering respectful critique, as long as you set this up as a safe environment for them to do this so that they don’t feel judged for “saying/asking something stupid”.

Other processes to think about include a system for authorship on papers, how you decide who attends conferences and how team members should raise issues. It is important to think about these in advance so that everyone knows how to get things done and so that you are seen to be treating everyone fairly.

4)   Interpersonal relationships

If people in the team get on it will lead to a better working atmosphere. You will find that this may be more important to some than others. Some people can work very effectively without interpersonal harmony, others will find it very distracting. Arranging for the team to meet socially can be good for morale but make sure that everyone is included. For instance, some people do not drink and others find evenings difficult because they have children.

Setting up good team processes and clarifying roles and responsibilities will also go a long way towards preventing issues with interpersonal relationships.

If despite this, people don’t get on then it is important that they can still work together and achieving this involves building a culture of respect. Your team may look to you to mediate conflict and the most important thing here is to not take sides. You may need to mediate a conversation between two people where you make sure that each person is listened to and a way forward is found. Setting up good team processes as above will go a long way towards preventing conflict however.

5)   Inter-team relationships

It is important that your team is respected and valued within your department and that other teams understand what you contribute. You will play a large part in this and your relationships with other senior academics will be key.  However, it may also include making sure that someone within your team volunteers for departmental responsibilities and presents at departmental meetings etc. Collaborative working is very important too and so you need to forge relationships to make this possible.

So the theory is that if you get all this right then your team will be effective! However, the most important thing is to be aware of the different factors which may impact on effectiveness and to monitor and adjust these as best you can. If your team sees that you are making an effort to support them and improve team working, they will be likely to help you with this task too. Try to be open about things that have not worked and ask for and take feedback from your team.

Good luck!


Glaser, R and Glaser, C (1992) Team Effectiveness Profile: How is your team working? Publisher: Organization Design and Development, 1992.

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