How can lab managers strengthen the alignment between their staff's activities and projects and the company's business strategy? Often laboratory staff members aren't always working on the right things. This happens for a variety of reasons.

Cascading goals

Make sure your staff members understand the goals of the various divisions or business groups within your company. Implement a system of cascading goals. This means working with your team leaders and staff members to be sure their project goals and other activities relate to the business goals of your employer.

It doesn't hurt to over-communicate frequently reminding staff members how accomplishing their own goals will help the organization achieve larger, broader goals.

Besides communicating with your own staff members, it is important to communicate with business managers so they know how the lab is supporting them in achieving business goals. One excellent way to do so is multidisciplinary project teams whose members include one or more business development managers and sales representatives.

Be sure that all the stakeholders in a project understand how achieving its goals will benefit both the employer and themselves personally. For example, when I managed a paper chemicals development group, at approximately the midpoint of projects teams would discuss how to publicize the new development, normally a new chemical product, though presentations at trade conferences and writing journal articles and technical bulletins. Team members appreciated the opportunities to attend conferences and develop professional recognition through conference presentations and trade journal publications.

Communicate achievements

Communicate achievements that contribute to achieving business goals to both lab staff members and members of concerned business groups within the organization.

To maintain enthusiasm, recognize not only accomplishing final goals but also achieving project milestones. This can be very important in maintaining momentum in working on long-term projects.

Use collaboration tools

Use collaboration tools effectively to promote effective communication among team members both within the same laboratory, different laboratories many miles apart and among members of very large teams. Collaboration tools can range from monthly progress reports compiled from individual team member reports to videoconferencing and online meetings. Don't forget the value of old-fashioned telephoning and hallway conversations.

Building trust

Used effectively these approaches will build trust and a sense of cooperation among team members. This is important in preventing friction between different "interest groups" within the company. For example, without effect communication and development of trust, an adversarial relationship can build up between laboratory staff and the business group they are supporting. If business group members don't appreciate the difficulty of solving a laboratory problem, they can become impatient with the rate of progress on a project and worry that the lab staff isn't focusing sufficiently on business needs.

Trust is like a lubricant reducing this friction. In my experience the best way of building this trust and convincing business personnel that sufficient concern is being paid to their interest is having representatives of the concerned business be members of multidisciplinary project teams, attend team meetings and have input into team decisions. Trust becomes the lubricant that enables future business transactions to go smoothly and team camaraderie and cooperation to flourish.