Research in teams & groups…when it works!

by Jaclyn McLean
Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Saskatchewan

Collaborations can be hard. Successful collaborations are rare (IMHO). I’ve been on teams of different shapes and sizes, and for different purposes since I became a librarian a decade(!) ago. Since I joined the USask Library five years ago, I’ve been lucky to have both the time and the opportunity to do some formalized learning about leadership and team development. I can look specifically to the Library Leadership Development Program (LLDP) and two posts from this blog as a turning point in the way I work in, and set expectations for, collaborative teams.

I could do a bunch of further research into the topic (and I have, see below for some sources I’ve consulted), but I thought I’d rather share my experiences:

  • Take time to plan early in the project: What are everyone’s expectation of timelines, deliverables? What are your goals from the project? If you want to publish an article, is there an outlet in mind? Who will be lead author? Are there roles each member will play on the team (aka note taker for meetings, booking meeting times/places, etc.)?
  • Talk about how you like to work: What makes you nutty? How do you measure success? How about others on the team? Where are your common values, and where are the potential conflicts? Identifying them early makes it easier to talk about them later—remember how I can think clearer if we meet in the mornings? remember how I like to take detailed notes?—rather than having to bring up these preferences in the heat of the moment.
  • Communicate: Talk to each other often and keep good notes. Keep track of decisions about methodology or changes along the way and check in with each other throughout the project to build trust with your collaborators.
  • Admit when you’re going to miss a deadline: do this before the deadline comes. Be understanding when another team member needs some flexibility on timelines too. We’re all busy, and shit happens.
  • It doesn’t have to be all business, all the time: being able to talk about other projects, or things in your life outside the research team not only lets your team members know when you will have reduced bandwidth (e.g., your cat is sick, or you’re going on vacation), but also builds relationships. Working on a team can’t be all about the working—it’s got to be about the team too.

I’ve always been a “get down to business” kind of person when it comes to work. It’s taken some hard lessons for me to remember to prioritize the more social elements of teamwork. They used to seem like a waste of time, time that could be spent getting the work done! I have now learned that making the time to build a foundation with your team and talking about how you want to work before you start doing the work is invaluable.

My apologies to anyone who was on a team with me before I realized this—I probably cut you off, or stifled your ideas, or rushed ahead with the task at hand without considering what you needed from the collaboration. Let’s be honest, I probably still do that sometimes. But I’m getting better 😊.

Further reading:
(if you only have time for one):

Shneiderman, B. (2016). The advantages of doing research in teams (essay) | Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/04/06/advantages-doing-research-teams-essay [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].

Dunn, B. (2018). Leading a productive research group | University of Oxford. [online] Ox.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/support-researchers/principal-investigators/principal-investigations-blog-pis/leading-productive-research-group?wssl=1 [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].

Lee, T., & Mitchell, T. (2011). Working in Research Teams: Lessons from Personal Experiences. Management And Organization Review, 7(03), 461-469. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8784.2011.00224.x

McEwan, D., Ruissen, G., Eys, M., Zumbo, B., & Beauchamp, M. (2017). The Effectiveness of Teamwork Training on Teamwork Behaviors and Team Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Interventions. PLOS ONE, 12(1), e0169604. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169604

Other excellently informed posts on the topic from this blog:

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/08/22/research-groups-and-the-gift-of-spaciousness/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/10/18/considering-collaborations/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/07/05/a-book-editing-collaboration/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/09/01/co-authoring2/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/06/09/collaborating-for-research-experiences-and-lessons-learnt/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/04/21/co-authoring-shared-work-%E2%89%A0-less-work/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/08/19/to-boldly-go-the-research-collaboration/

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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