By Andrew Evans
On July 30, 2010, fellows attended a workshop entitled "Adventures in Collaboration and Team Science" presented by Drs. Michelle Bennett and Howard Gadlin. Dr. Bennett, Ph.D., is the Deputy Scientific Director of NHLBI, and Dr. Gadlin, Ph.D., is the Ombudsman with the NIH Office of the Director. Statistics demonstrate that research accomplishments achieved via collaborations and scientific teams are steadily increasing, and it is likely that this trend will continue upward along with the pace and complexity of modern science. Drs. Bennett and Gadlin recognize the importance of productive collaborations and seek to understand and educate others about what makes research teams successful.
Bennett and Gadlin have discovered that the most important factor for team success is trust. Trust is the foundation of a good team and can be built by engaging in activities such as regular team meetings, open data sharing, and providing and receiving honest feedback. Effective scientific teams also have a shared vision and establish detailed understandings and procedures for their collaboration. Such "prenuptial" agreements may include processes for sharing data and credit, authorship, and conflict resolution.
It is also important to understand the natural cycle of team science, which includes forming, storming (establishing roles and responsibilities, often triggering disagreement), norming (developing trust and comfort), performing (working efficiently), and adjourning / transforming (completion of the collaboration or beginning a new collaborative project). Team members should be able to recognize each of these stages as valuable to the success of the collaboration.
To conclude the workshop, attendees examined a fictional case study describing a collaboration involving industry, clinical, and basic research scientists. Taking on the roles of different team members, participants debated the specifics of the team's prenuptial agreement---a valuable exercise for understanding the importance of such agreements and trust among team members.
Early-career scientists benefit from recognizing the increasing role of scientific teams in today's research environment and can work actively to improve teamwork skills and enthusiasm for collaboration. Along with Ms. Samantha Levine-Finley, Drs. Bennett and Gadlin have written an excellent manual for those looking to understand successful teamwork, entitled Collaboration & Team Science: A Field Guide. This guide and additional resources, such as an agreement template, are available on the web at ccrod.cancer.gov/confluence/display/NIHOMBUD.