Jacqueline Resnick

Dealing with Egos

Posted on February 14, 2006

Jacqueline Resnick (bio) talks about two problems that can prevent multidisciplinary teams from working well.


Q: What are the main barriers that come to mind for multidisciplinary teams? What things can hold a team back?
A: Egos. Having a too-lofty sense of self can prevent someone from valuing other people's experiences and skills. I have a good example of that. I was putting together [a multidisciplinary team] on campus. It was a little out of our normal research agenda, but we went ahead and started gathering together some people. Then, the head of the department called me up and screamed at me over the phone, "Why are you bringing in a radiologist? And someone from environmental sciences? What do they know about our field? Why are they coming into this? They can't possibly understand the issues we are going to have to face."

And I said to this person, "Oh, you know, you are so right on these things, but we want to try something unique, and it could help you with what you want to do. All I want you to do is come to one meeting and then I will meet with you separately. You don't have to come back to another meeting. Are you willing to try that?" Well, he grumbled and he grumbled and he came to that one meeting. Six years later, the team is still together, and they have done all kinds of things as a major advisory group. So, you have to be willing to pull your own stuff. Be forceful, but not too top-down.

Another big barrier to multidisciplinary team-building is the disciplines themselves. Funding is changing; everyone is trying drawing a multi-disciplinary road map, collaborations, centers, programs, etc. Universities are saying, "Oh, we need to get our teams together so we can go for this program for these monies." But at the same time, young faculty are coming up for tenure, and they're getting told by their colleagues who come from the old school who sit on the full professors list, "You can't publish in any of these other journals. For you to get tenure, you have to concentrate on your own discipline and the discipline is saying unless you do this this way, we won't recognize you as an expert." So, you're getting conflicting messages now. And there is no easy answer except you have to get institutions to start to give credit across disciplines for grants. You've got to get institutions to work with their professors in terms of the tenure process and eventually the disciplines themselves will change as more people are trained and thinking in a more multidisciplinary way. You don't have to do away with the individual expertise, we need that. The question is how do you make use of that in a team?



Based on a presentation at NCRSA, March 2005, Greensboro, NC.


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