Putting a team together with both experienced and new collaborators

"You can build a research team from the top down (by leaders in their respective fields and/or organizations) or from the bottom up (by junior and senior scholars at the grassroots level). Both approaches can result in the development of highly effective teams.

"A well-known example of the top-down formation of a highly successful research team was the one established by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2003 to solve the spreading SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic.  WHO brought together 11 researchers from 9 countries to identify the pathogen responsible for SARS deaths. Once organized, the team quickly embraced several key principles of effective teams:

  • frequent communication about data, results and next steps;
  • processes to share data and clinical samples; and
  • shared commitment to a concrete goal.

As a result, a mere month later, the team determined that a previously unrecognized coronavirus was the causative agent of SARS (Pieris, Lae, et al, 2003).

"Bottom-up teams form when scientists identify a common interest and come together to tackle a problem or achieve an agreed-upon goal. Examples of bottom-up teams and collaborations can be found across the biomedical sciences, from simple collaborations to highly complex and interactive research teams.  People will often be drawn together by a common interest and will self-assemble to collaboratively address a challenging question. With leadership support for their scientific endeavors, self-assembled multi-disciplinary efforts can be highly successful.”

Adapted from pages 37-25 in Bennett, L. M., Gadlin, H., Marchand, C. (2018). Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide. 2nd edn., National Institutes of Health Publication No. 18-7660, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, United States of America.  Content is verbatim; the formatting is added.

This material was written in the context of team science.  Our emphasis is broader.  Therefore we substituted "scholarship" or "research" for "science" in the text as well as "scholar" for "scientist."  We left the title of the manuscript quoted as Team Science so it can be found.

Peiris, J.S.M., Lai, S.T., Poon, L.L.M., Guan, Y., Yam, L.Y.C., Lim, W., Nicholls, J., Yee, W.K.S., Yan, W.W., Cheung, M.T. and Cheng, V.C.C., 2003. Coronavirus as a possible cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome. The Lancet, 361(9366), pp.1319-1325.

Same topic, different authors:

The types of agents composing a team may be classified according to their experience. There are newcomers, who have little experience and unseasoned skills, and there are incumbents who are established persons with track records.

Therefore, there are four possible types of links within a team:

Newcomer-newcomer, Newcomer-incumbent, Incumbent-incumbent and Repeat incumbent-incumbent

The distribution of links reflects the team's diversity. A 2005 study by Guimera, Uzzi, Spiro, and Amaral, on which this information is based, found that if teams have a preponderance of repeat incumbent-incumbent links, they are less likely to have innovative ideas because their shared experiences tend to homogenize their pool of knowledge.

When teams have a variety of links, they're more likely to have diverse perspectives and therefore more innovative solutions.

The study analyzed data from both artistic and scientific fields in which collaboration needs experienced pressures such as differentiation and specialization, internationalization, and commercialization. Specifically, in the artistic field, the researchers looked at all 2,258 Broadway productions from 1877 to 1990. Their findings are telling.

They found that network typography significantly affects artist performance and that the more diverse pools of talent and creative material - new collaborators - the more likely artists were to experiment and create hits from new combinations of existing material.

They also found that artist teams that combined experienced with new artists were most successful, whereas artist teams composed of only people who had collaborated before had less successful productions.

Quoted from Spring, B., Falk-Krzesinski, H., Moller, A., Pfammatter, A., Klyachko, K., & Rak, P. Assembling a Team:  What is the evidence about whether teams comprised of newcomers and incumbents are more successful? Coalesce: Learn to perform trans-disciplinary, team-based translational research.  Northwestern University School of Medicine.  https://www. teamscience.net/home