The Three Foundations of Team Equilibrium

My colleagues and I, doing different protocols on a same sample batch, simultaneously: FACS, RNA, DNA and protein extraction. Go Team!

You know what they say – there’s no ”me” in team! But look carefully, letters ”m” and ”e” are certainly there, meaning: think of yourself, too.

”Keen team player” and ”Strong ability to work in a team” are descriptions still often seen in many job ads, including those for research positions, naturally; although, whichever job you do, it is highly likely that you will interact with other people, i.e. some sort of a team.

At the very beginning of my scientific career, I wasn’t entirely sure what team work entails; a colleague later enlightened me that I shouldn’t take it literally, as in ”You add buffer, and I spin the tubes” (anyone who has ever done chromatin immunoprecipitation knows what I’m talking about). Although, this has happened too, see the photo to the right.

Over the years, I learned that the success of a team is based on three essential pillars:

1. Altruism. In scientific research groups, a project is rarely shared between two or more individuals; it’s usually ”to each his own”. However, overlaps and collaborations are a norm, and ultimately, every group, scientific or not, works on one specific subject and strives towards a unique goal. Hence, it is crucial that all members of a team understand and support each other. By doing that, each member supports himself too. This concept was even mathematically proven; it is called Nash Equilibrium. Check the movie A Beautiful Mind for a reference, or if you don’t have the time, the clip below.

2. Clear strategy. This falls under the ”unique goal” mentioned above. If a group does not share the same goal or vision, failure is inevitable. I learned this the hard way this summer, vacationing with a big group of friends, where everyone wanted different things: one to simply lay on the beach, other to sip coffee, and another to go for each and every possible sea activity (guess which one was me!). But who cares, that was vacation! When it comes to real work and profit, same goals and level of enthusiasm are a MUST! Check the movie franchise The Hangover (the first one is enough) as a reference of how to fail as a group.hangover3. Regular progress meetings. They go hand-in-hand with the strategy. Sometimes, the strategy is simply not clear, and that’s when you need the team members to help. But how often does that really happen? Or how often do you sit at a meeting like poor prince Oberyn Martell at the Small Council in Game of Thrones, bored and annoyed at the same time, knowing that team members have nothing in common and nothing useful to say? Sigh. Unfortunately, it happens.

group meetingBut fret not. Even if your team indeed seems useless, seek elsewhere! I have seen this funny inspirational poster at one place too many: it may seem as a mockery, but it sometimes makes perfect sense.

HoldAMeetingordersAnd one day, who knows, maybe you won’t be a team player anymore, but go on your own, like Han Solo. Though even he had to interact with people, jedis, Hutts, and whatnot, and do a service, or consultancy if you like, for them (it was smuggling.). Which means, there’s no such thing as working on your own, unless you’re an established writer and know that people will read whatever b.s. you write.

So, fellow team players, remember the Nash equilibrium the next time you notice that the cell room drawer is out of pipettes: The best result comes when everyone in the group does what’s best for himself AND the group. Fill that drawer up, for yourself AND the others! Take one for the team! 😉

To be continued…

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