Teamwork is an Essential in Life Sciences and Biotech

Life scientists researching in laboratory. Attractive female young scientist and her doctoral supervisor microscoping in their working environment. Healthcare and biotechnology.


By: Robert Ruth. Teamwork is essential in any industry; in the Life Sciences and Biotech industries, it’s the glue that ties everything together and generates answers. As Elizabeth Culotta points out In an article for The Scientist, “Researchers in many fields now recognize that no single person can contribute all the necessary expertise to solve increasingly complex problems.” She reminds us that group dynamics don’t always smoothly –particularly within the life sciences. Trained to nurture their visions, researchers can struggle to interweave their efforts and become a team.

Multidisciplinary teams are the core of Biopharma projects. The collaboration of talent from physicians to chemists, toxicologists, pharmacologists, etc., as well as members who cover programming, data management, IT, and biostatistics, to the production, sales, and marketing team members, brings a project to ultimate fruition. Their collaboration produces the drugs, medical devices, diagnostics, etc., that change the world.

“The world is so complex, no one person has the skills or knowledge to accomplish all that we want to accomplish,” says Susan McDaniel, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and 2016 APA president known for her dedication to team-based work. “Interdisciplinary teams are the way to make that happen.”

Creating highly functional teams within teams and then joining them into one group, often across the country and sometimes globally, is a science in itself.  Gerald F. Goodwin, Ph.D., of the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, suggests that it begins with understanding the difference between task work and teamwork. Taskwork is the actual work that must be accomplished to complete the project. At the same time, teamwork involves the “interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviors of team members that enable them to work effectively together.” While the distinction might seem obvious, Goodwin points out that “understanding the elements of teamwork is vital.  “How well people work together may be more important than how well they work on the tasks.”

What elements produce a cohesive, productive team? According to Glenn Parker, author of Team Players and Teamwork, a team consists of four niches –contributors, communicators, challengers, and collaborators. During the course of a project, individuals can fill multiple roles.

Contributors: Work on a specific piece of the project, delivering the results to the team.

Communicators: Keep track of social interactions, heals conflict, and keeps various team members informed.

Challengers: Question – or challenge – ideas and results, ensuring hidden glitches are discovered, and the outcome is successful.

Collaborators: Articulates the vision, clarifying the goal, and keeping the team united as they move forward.

Covering all the roles, however, is not the only factor. In the Life Sciences and Biotech industries, teams often consist of professionals from different cultural backgrounds. It’s vital to spend time getting to know each other and understanding the nuances that define each member. It’s not the differences we can see, but the deeper factors –personality traits, values, abilities, thought processes, etc. –make a significant impact on a team’s cohesiveness. These factors have been labeled the ABCs of teamwork; the attitudes, behaviors, and cognitive states that individually and together affect a team’s success.

Team science research reveals that collaborating across organizational, geographic, and cultural boundaries and disciplines increase productivity and scientific impact. However, bringing them together requires both trust and members’ psychological safety –the freedom to share ideas, questions, concerns, etc.

While we have been creating teams to achieve shared goals for a long time, understanding methods and processes helps teams become more efficient and, ultimately, successful. As Suzanne Bell, Ph.D., says, “What’s changing is the understanding and appreciation that there is a science behind how to manage teams. Teams are complex systems. The more you can manage them using a scientific basis, the better your teams will be.”

The Ashton Tweed leadership team, executives with diverse life sciences and human capital backgrounds understand your need for high-functioning teams. As a boutique retained executive search firm, we have created the first Executive Talent Bank dedicated to servicing the life sciences industry. We also pioneered the employment concept of interim talent for life sciences and biotech industries.


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