Team Play

Science is team work!

A team is a relatively small number of people, with complementary skills, committed to the same goals, while members themselves are mutually accountable. 

[J.R Katzenbach and D.K. Smith, The Wisdom of Teams, Creating the High-Performance Organization, Harper Collins, 1993].

Modern science is team work. One can see that for example in the large number of scientific articles with multiple authors. Such research teams usually have members from different institutions, to combine skills and expertises that are normally not found in one group. Such teams exhibit synergy, i.e. the collective achieves much more than the sum of the separate efforts. 

The same is true for your own research group. If the students of your group learn to appreciate the advantages of team work, all will benefit. Often this happens to a certain extent automatically, where a student who is good in analytical tools helps the one who prepares new materials, or the computer whizzkid of the group guides the others in applying software tools or making nice presentation graphics.

If you succeed in planning the research projects of your team members in such a way that all are related, and contribute to your mission and vision, you will soon start to notice the great advantages of synergy in teams in many aspects: students helping each other, supervising each other, devising original ideas, etc. etc. 

A common pitfall for young academics is that they give each new student a new project, which leads to fragmentation, subcritical efforts, and a tremendous supervision load.

Ideally, well-performing teams are self-guided, implying that team members are prepared to play various roles: they feel confident enough that they take the lead when their expertise is needed,

The slide, taken from the work of Oshry emphasizes a very important characteristic of successful teams: everybody can be the leader at the moment that his/her skills are most needed, and even the most senior team member can go into an assistant role if circumstances request so. 


If people do not trust their boss, their colleagues or their students they will find a way to cope with the situation, either consciously or unconsciously; they adopt a survival mode. However, if people trust the environment in which they operate, they will open up, reveal who they are, what they can do and what they think.

Trust is the first step.

When people feel they are not valued, they will focus solely on their own. Their attitude becomes indifferent or changes to unproductive cosiness with colleagues and fellow students. However, when people do feel valued, they automatically start to grow to their full potential and work hard to realize their own goals.

Recognition is the second step.

When people’s capabilities to work in a team are underused, they tend to deteriorate. Eagerness and energy to achieve goals together, go down. When you take care that people feel involved and committed, they start to intercreate and develop focus leading to high performance and impact of the whole team. Over time, involvement and commitment will integrate into dedication to the team and her goals.

Dedication is the third step.

For reaching their destination, animals cooperating in flocks share leadership and use less energy. Teams cooperating as flocks achieve more, needing less supervision. They are more appealing for new team members, financers and students. For building a team acting as a flock, team members need insight in their self management and self leadership roles, as well as insight in each others strengths. When people are allowed to be authentic and add intuition, they understand and find each other easier, better and quicker. In this way, they naturally put the most fitted in the lead.

Natural cooperation - the final step.


Modern science is team work. A common mission and an authentic culture of trust and empowered members form together the best guarantee for synergy.