CommentaryTeam Science

A Multi-Level Systems Perspective for the Science of Team Science

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Science Translational Medicine  15 Sep 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 49, pp. 49cm24
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001399


  • Fig. 1. Multi-level, mixed-methods approach to SciTS.

    Team science can be studied at different levels using different approaches. Together, the insights derived from these studies are worth more than the sum of their parts.



  • Table 1. Representative multi-level insights about team science.


    Insights from macro-level researchSpace/geography matters—even in the Internet age. Citation patterns show that over time, major research institutions cite more locally (18, 19).
    Teamwork in science increasingly spans university boundaries, but the increasing social stratification in multi-university collaborations suggests a concentration of productivity in fewer rather than more centers of high-impact science (1).
    Creating larger collaborative organizational structures is difficult because of traditions of scientific independence, difficulties of sharing implicit knowledge, and formal organizational barriers (20, 21).
    Team characteristics can be used to identify those scientific and engineering teams and projects that will most benefit from adopting cyberinfrastructures (22, 23).
    Structural elements of collaboration (among them the team formation, size and duration, organization, technological practices, and participant experiences) are interrelated and connected to a complex external environment (including the sector, organizational, and funding contexts) (24).
    Today’s science is not driven by prolific single experts but by high-impact co-authorship teams (2, 25, 26).
    Seven generic principles provide a coherent framework for thinking about evaluation of inter- and transdisciplinary team-based research (27).
    Insights from meso-level researchMixed-methods approaches support evaluating the effectiveness of complex team science initiatives, the centrality of research on groups and teams to the field of SciTS, and the role of face-to-face communication in remote SciTS collaborations (28, 29).
    Studies of coordination mechanisms in multi-university collaborations reveal that face-to-face coordination is especially important for training outcomes and that direct supervision is the most effective coordination mechanism (30).
    Studies on “superstar extinction”—the retirement or death of a star scientist—reveal the boundaries of the scientific field to which the star contributes: the “invisible college” (31).
    Scientists benefit from knowledge of the importance of network ties and how to locate prime collaborators (25).
    Increased understanding about how high-impact collaborative networks are assembled (32) and the widespread availability (via digital sources) of research networking data aid the development of “social network”–based recommender systems that help scholars find expertise or resources and enable more effective team science (33).
    The bulk of collaborative communication occurs within teams; this is where relationships among individuals and organizations emerge and affect team effectiveness (12).
    Interdisciplinary research is team research. Thus, we should consider implementing principles from organizational science and the socio-cognitive psychology of teamwork and team training to improve interdisciplinary research and the practice of team science (8, 14).
    Insights from micro-level researchPerceived interpersonal collaboration processes (such as greater trust, cohesion, and communication) are correlated to increased productivity (34).
    Intrapersonal characteristics, such as the propensity to endorse multidisciplinary values and behaviors, are predictive for research productivity (34).
    Although many young scientists are drawn to the intellectual rewards of interdisciplinary research as graduate students, they may also be deterred by the professional risks as early-career tenure-track scientists (35).
    Social scientists’ observations of scientists can be more informative than scientists’ own experience. The ingredients of a successful collaboration include good leadership, trust among the participants, face-to-face meetings, and strong communication skills (36).
  • Table 2. Representative challenges for the SciTS.


    Macro-level challengesSciTS must address broad philosophical issues concerning the ways of pursuing (and encouraging) differing forms of scientific progress. For example, organizational change is needed at the university level, so that researchers practicing collaboration and interdisciplinarity are rewarded and not punished for their team-based versus individually pursued projects.
    From a policy standpoint, SciTS needs to understand how to develop and support a programmatic line of inquiry into team science. Relevant studies should encompass professional and organizational culture and identity.
    Research on leadership is required to identify and leverage the factors that influence the management and effectiveness of interdisciplinary research (8).
    Meso-level challengesResearch in SciTS can explore how to develop improved recommender systems that enable the assembly of optimal teams, taking into account the social incentives that are necessary for the team to function effectively.
    SciTS must help us understand how we can adapt and apply methods from the study of teams to team science. Such research could use systematic techniques to, for example, identify whether needs such as leadership or communication training should be implemented (8).
    SciTS can identify the particular coordination requirements that a team may need and the outcomes arising from these varied interdependencies.
    Micro-level challengesResearch in SciTS can compare educational approaches that focus on training within a particular discipline versus those that foster exposure to multiple mentors across two or more disciplines, incorporating ideas drawn from other areas.
    SciTS can study the appropriate blend of educational approaches, teamwork skills, and training modalities required to support those trained in varied disciplines (37).
    SciTS can increase our understanding of the social and behavioral factors that affect who chooses to engage in team science.

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