MSL Team Building: What Not to Do

Back in 2001, I participated in a “team-building” exercise. Field-based professionals make an interesting “team”. While I welcomed the opportunity to work in a “team setting”, I was not convinced of the truth in what these exercises measured, or how these exercises translated to our cohesiveness as a team.

This was my first team-building experience, and this was back before team-building at “laser tag” or “go-cart” venues became fashionable. Having read various business magazines showcasing the success (and extravagance) of team-building workshops, I had high expectations of the what these exercises should achieve.

I and my MSL colleagues faithfully filled out the questionnaire that the trainer requested, but the trainer did not acknowledge or address our concerns or questions from the filled form, even at the end of the workshop. We only remembered our dislike for the trainer’s sarcastic remarks — or maybe it was his facial expression: he seemed to hold us on contempt, the way he looked at us. The team building event was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The nature of field-based medical science liaisons is to endure solitude with self-motivation and discipline. Traditional team-building workshops cannot completely apply to remote teams. Field-based teams often don’t worked in the same office or interact on a daily basis.

Medical science liaisons usually come with a critical eye that may not warm to the same motivational slogans that pump up sales representatives at festive national sales meetings. Medical science liaison team members work together mostly through remote communication, via emails, voicemails, and telephone. Medical science liaisons see their peers only a few times a year during meetings or conferences. Technical value of an interaction may be rated higher by MSLs than the “touchy-feely” value of an interaction, even as MSL managers acknowledge that interpersonal skills are highly desired in MSLs. Still, MSLs cultivate effective relationships as a result of their technical competence: scientific acumen is the means to a productive end (a thought leader “relationship” that benefits both the thought leader and the company.)

Training programs and team building workshops for MSLs thus should be designed with the customers (MSLs) in mind. Given the heterogeneity of MSLs and industry’s MSL programs, team building workshops should be customized to the needs and dynamics of a particular MSL team. What worked to enhance team effectiveness for one company may not necessarily yield the same result from another company. I wonder if MSL team building exercises may fare better when conducted while the MSLs are in the field, communicating by remote, because this best simulates how MSLs actually “work together” and communicate. We only get together as a team maybe 20% of the time… the other 80% we are working as a virtual team.

From where I stand, team-building workshops for MSLs have as long a way to go as the fruitful application of data from the Genome project.