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Managing teamwork in the face of pandemic: evidence-based tips
  1. Scott I Tannenbaum1,
  2. Allison M Traylor2,
  3. Eric J Thomas3,4,
  4. Eduardo Salas2
  1. 1 Group for Organizational Effectiveness, Albany, New York, USA
  2. 2 Department of Psychological Sciences, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
  3. 3 The McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center Houston, Houston, Texas, USA
  4. 4 The University of Texas at Houston – Memorial Hermann Center for for Healthcare Quality and Safety, Houston, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Eduardo Salas, Department of Psychology, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA; eduardo.salas{at}

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Front-line medical teams are experiencing unprecedented stressors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of these pressures, teamwork has become both more important and more challenging. Fortunately, numerous examples of naturally occurring cooperation are appearing at healthcare institutions around the globe, including instances of people trying to work together during the crisis who may not have done so under ‘normal’ conditions. A crisis can stimulate some people’s willingness to cooperate, for example, to ignore prior disagreements to tackle a shared predicament. But even when the intent to cooperate is present, the incessant stress present during a crisis makes it significantly harder for teams to sustain coordinated performance over time.1 2 Focused attention on teamwork is required.3

Prior research conducted on teams under stress can be used to help anticipate risk points that can adversely impact teamwork and reveal what can be done to help teams coordinate effectively, maintain resilience and ensure patient safety during the pandemic. This article offers several evidence-based recommendations to help clinical teams that work directly with patients during COVID-19 and in future crises. Tips are included for clinical care team leaders and team members, as well as for members of management who support or oversee clinical teams (senior leaders, middle managers, crisis management teams).

Over the last 30 years we have studied and advised teams across a broad range of settings. Some of these teams work in what you might think of ‘normal’ or routine settings, such as manufacturing or sales. But many perform in high-stress conditions where the consequences of failure and personal pressures are high, including teams of astronauts, deep sea divers, jet fighter pilots, smoke jumpers, miners, emergency medical technicians, soldiers and trauma teams. During this time, research on team effectiveness has expanded and close to 50 meta-analyses …

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