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Breaking Down Silos

It is not news that the research workplace has changed considerably over the past decade. As with many businesses, laboratories have come under pressure to generate better results with ever greater efficiency.

by Pamela Ahlberg
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This in turn has led to greater emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, which has necessitated the breakdown of previously isolated silos of knowledge and ways of working. And whether research entities like it or not, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural teams aren’t going away any time soon. The challenge for managers has been how to make these new collaborations productive, dynamic, and clash free. This month we try to provide a bit of guidance.

Beginning with “The Human Side: Managing Culturally Diverse Teams,” author Peter Gwynne introduces a particularly effective approach to managing diverse teams referred to as “fusion.” “Fusion is based on two fundamental elements of collaboration: coexistence of differences and meaningful participation,” says Jeanne Brett, director of the Dispute Resolution Center at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Managers set up their teams to fail because they themselves fail to help the team anticipate cultural differences and so see conflict in cultural, as opposed to personal or organizational, terms and fail to set norms for dealing with cultural differences,” Brett explains. 

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As for cross-disciplinary collaboration, Mark Lanfear in this month’s Science Matters column (page 16) says, “Merely bringing everyone together on a project isn’t necessarily going to do the trick. Meaningful cross-functional connections must be made.” In addition to good communication and making sure that everyone knows they are no longer working ‘separately,’ managers need to start thinking in a more interdisciplinary fashion. “This involves knowing that different perspectives on a single project are the key to inspiring new ideas,” which, Lanfear believes, will make the work being done “more efficient, dynamic, and ultimately of higher quality.”

If the existing organizational structure of a lab could be considered a kind of silo, then this month’s Lab Manager Academy author, Steve Epner, suggests breaking that down as well. “Most lab operations need to understand the difference between leaders, managers, and doers. This lack of understanding is the reason so many labs are structured around people based on their longevity and personalities instead of their performance.” He argues that successful organizations start with a clean sheet of paper. No names, just an understanding of where you need leaders, managers, and doers.”

Whether your management challenges are cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary, cross-generational, or structural, you are still in the business of increasing revenue for your lab, and for that you need a marketing plan. Turn to this month’s Business Management article, “Marketing Your Lab,” to learn some easy, inexpensive, and practical suggestions for doing just that. “Marketing your lab can be accomplished with a little elbow grease and some legwork, often at little cost. By doing research up front on potential customers, and planning your marketing based on the targeted audience, you will be more successful reaching your customers with the right message,” says author Lynda Seeger.

This month’s issue also provides the latest information on laboratory imaging systems, the challenges of managing a dairy lab, and product-specific articles on gas generators, microplate readers, mass spectrometers, viscometers, and LIMS. All in all, some good information we hope you find useful.


Pamela Ahlberg