Team Scholarship at UCI

It has been evident for some time that many challenges in scholarship require assembling teams, either large or small, to take them on. This is because the mix of skills required are seldom held by just one person or the effort involved needs to be distributed in order to reach an outcome in reasonable time. But effective team scholarship can be a challenge to create. This site offers a guide to making such efforts more successful.

Why is Team Scholarship Important?

Sometimes even small problems can require diverse expertise. For instance, developing new tools to elucidate a phenomenon may require both a domain expert and a computer science expert.

Team Scholarship can provide access to facilities, data sets, or other specialized resources. For example, high energy physics has relied on increasingly sophisticated facilities for many years. Likewise, efforts to track social phenomena over time often require huge data sets that may be federated from lots of smaller sets.

It is well known in social psychology that there can be mutual facilitation among members of a team. Such social facilitation has a long research tradition in social psychology (Zajonc, 1965), and it’s specific etiology is a bit complex. But often positive things happen when working together.

Cummings and Kiesler (2005) found that NSF projects that had teams that had had earlier success were often more successful in a new project. A team that has already established the practices and customs that are successful will have an easier time building on this past success for a new project. However, over time, it can be advantageous to add some new people to the collaboration to avoid falling into the trap of consistent thinking (Gulmera et al., 2005).

More and more it is the case that funders are issuing requests for proposals that require a team approach. Funding agencies are well aware of the potential benefits of teams, though they also know the risks, and therefore often require evidence of procedures that will minimize the risks.

What are the challenges to effective team scholarship?

blank-conifers-crossroad-1578750

Conflicting Goals

Teams for whom the goals of the individual members are not aligned can face serious problems. Such goal conflicts have been studied extensively in the social psychology literature. For instance, some may have goals closely associated with their home discipline. Researchers at different points in their careers often have different goals. Bringing goals into alignment early in a project can be a key, but periodic checks to make sure they are still aligned is also important.

chess-pieces-color-conceptual-1679618

Lack of Common Ground

Common ground refers to shared knowledge, which often is associated with shared terminology. In our research we have seen some projects that start out with an effort to establish common vocabulary.

3d rendering of a sea of umbrellas

Different Work Styles

What is an effective approach to completing a task for some, may appear to be time-wasting to others. It’s important for teams to understand each other’s work styles to avoid unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings.

A man shares with his hand cubes with the inscription team. Dividing the collective into two parts or disbanding the team. Lack of leadership qualities and poor quality of business management.

Lack of Effective Leadership

Studies of team leadership has a long and rich history in the social sciences. There are many kinds of leadership styles, and team members can react quite differently to these different styles. 

black-collaboration-cooperation-943630

Ambiguous Criteria to Assigning Credit for Work

This issue most often surfaces in issues of co-authorship. Different fields have different customs about this. And when there are complex teams, knowing the role of each member can be critical. Some journals (e.g., Science) require that co-authors have their precise roles spelled out in a postnote. 

resources

Contested Control of Resources

Resources can come in many forms: access to facilities, access to specialized expertise, space.

cash-close-up-counting-1435192

Hidden Distribution of Funds

Funds are often a key resource in a project. Covering a portion of a person’s salary, providing funds to hire research assistance, travel money, funds for equipment and supplies. Projects in which team members feel like they are not getting their fair share of funds or where the process by which funds are allocated can lead to serious troubles.

isolated-3342656_640

Miscommunication

It can be very frustrating when phone calls are not returned or e-mails are not responded to. 

closeup-3387303_640

Loss of Trust

Trust is a key element of team effectiveness. Trust means that you are confident that other team members will do what they say they will do, and that they will keep your interests in mind and not try to take advantage of you. 

Yes, No, or Maybe concepts of making business decision

Dificulties in Decision Making

Understanding how decisions are made by a team can be important. At the very least, it should be clear to everyone how decisions are made, even if they are disproportionately made by a subset of team members or by the leader. 

planning-620299_640

Absence of a Clear Process for Updating Goals

Projects often encounter surprises, either with the definition of the problem, the particular strategy employed in researching the problem, or the particular mix of skills brought to bear. Having a process by which goals and strategies can be revised can be very important.

confused-880735_640

Lack of Tools to Support the Collaboration

There are better and better tools available for the support of collaboration. But not knowing about them, or not knowing how to use them effectively, can be a missed opportunity. 

team-size

Daunting Size or Scale of the Team

As teams grow in size, they obviously become more complex to manage. But as we’ve seen with high energy physics, with the right practices very large teams can be quite successful. In an interesting set of analysis, Cummings & Kiesler (2005, 2007) found that what often creates complexity in large teams is that the members come from different institutions.

man-89362_640

Institutional Barriers — e.g., Promotion & Tenure Credit Issues

Academic institutions can be very conservative. Putting an emphasis on single-authored papers or giving the most credit to the first author can work against successful team research. But how exactly should contributions to team research be considered. Klein & Falk-Krzesinski (2017) did an initial survey of how institutions are dealing with this issue.  Our TSAL group is actively working on this issue at UCI.

By Strebe - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16115375

Geographic Distribution — distance matters

Olson & Olson (2000) published an article entitled “Distance Matters,” in which they reviewed a series of factors that are challenges for geographically distributed teams with an updated account in Olson & Olson (2014). Many of the factors described above become even more challenging when the people doing the work are not collocated. For example, leading a geographically dispersed team has many new challenges. Trust and common ground are more difficult to establish. Communication can be much more difficult. And so on.

What Resources are Available to Help With These Challenges?

Find out here:

Scroll to Top