I received a call the other day from an old friend who had taken on a new job. Her job involved developing the North American MA function for a non-US pharma company. One of her first tasks was to consolidate and expand the MSL function in the NA. She was very concerned because her budget was fairly limited given the ground she needed to cover with her MSLs. She wondered whether she could “stretch” her staff by using team leads that have both substantial HCP support and managerial responsibilities.
While practical considerations, especially for very small or very new MSL teams, sometimes dictate the need for MSL Team Leaders to have both substantial HCP support and managerial responsibilities, over time these types of models tend to be unstable. When Team Leads have substantial HCP responsibilities those responsibilities tend to absorb the time for managing their team. It is essentially a case of the urgent driving out the important. In an effort to be responsive, HCP needs tend to trump other requirements, especially requirements that can be put off like team management. As a result, despite best intents the team suffers from a lack of leadership. And, in cases where the team already has some challenges, like lack of experience or entering a new therapeutic area, this lack of focus can derail the entire MSL effort.
While it is important for the MSL team leads to maintain contact with some very targeted HCPs, it must be a small portion of their workload and their managers need to ensure that they do not lose their focus on their primary responsibility – the leadership of the team. The important cannot be allowed to be a victim of the urgent.
So what is the magic number where a more-or-less full time team leader is needed? Putting aside all the caveats that the number varies by TA, product complication, HCP need, etc., I would say the number is between 8 and 12. Less than 8 it does not make much sense to have a full time-ish team leader. Over 12 and it too much work for one person.
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