A systematic review of teamwork in the intensive care unit: what do we know about teamwork, team tasks, and improvement strategies?

J Crit Care. 2014 Dec;29(6):908-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2014.05.025. Epub 2014 Jun 4.


Purpose: Teamwork is essential for ensuring the quality and safety of health care delivery in the intensive care unit (ICU). This article addresses what we know about teamwork, team tasks, and team improvement strategies in the ICU to identify the strengths and limitations of the existing knowledge base to guide future research.

Methods: A keyword search of the PubMed database was conducted in February 2013. Keyword combinations focused on 3 areas: (1) teamwork, (2) the ICU, and (3) training/quality improvement interventions. All studies that investigated teamwork, team tasks, or team interventions within the ICU (ie, intradepartment) were selected for inclusion.

Results: Teamwork has been investigated across an array of research contexts and task types. The terminology used to describe team factors varied considerably across studies. The most common team tasks involved strategy and goal formulation. Team training and structured protocols were the most widely implemented quality improvement strategies.

Conclusions: Team research is burgeoning in the ICU, yet low-hanging fruit remains that can further advance the science of teams in the ICU if addressed. Constructs must be defined, and theoretical frameworks should be referenced. The functional characteristics of tasks should also be reported to help determine the extent to which study results might generalize to other contexts of work.

Keywords: Group processes; Intensive care unit; Patient safety; Teamwork.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Safety