Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business


“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
– Phil Jackson

by Pamela Ahlberg
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It’s not as though there hasn’t been enough said or written on the subject of team building and leadership. However, sometimes good ideas bear repeating. As anyone who’s been fortunate enough to work for a great boss within a great organization knows, a trusting and collaborative workplace dynamic can make great things happen. And anyone who’s been less fortunate and worked for a bad boss within a dysfunctional organization knows the toll it can take on one’s spirit.

Last week most of us were watching when the Philae Lander made the first-ever soft-landing on a comet. Besides being a “game changer” for cometary science, watching the team of enthusiastic and committed scientists and engineers work together behind the scenes was equally inspiring. Now that’s a team.

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This month’s cover story is a must-read for any lab manager who needs a refresher course on what it takes to foster happy, functional, and productive teams.

Which is not to say it’s easy, as Dr. Weston Judd, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food laboratory director and state chemist, reminds us in this month’s Perspective On: A Food & Beverage Lab. One challenge for Judd is the diversity of his team. “Overall, [my team] works pretty well together, though promoting teamwork is a bit of a challenge sometimes because the dairy testing lab does work that’s quite a bit different from what the chemistry group does.” His solution—cross training—allows the staff of one lab to help that of another in times when one lab has few samples and the other is overwhelmed.

Try as a manager may, occasionally there is one bad apple on the team whose performance or attitude is a serious detriment to the rest. When warnings and corrective actions fail to improve the situation, a manager has no alternative but to let that person go. In this month’s Leadership & Staffing article, author Rachel Muenz shares tips and procedures for handling this unpleasant task. “Being both professional and kind is key at this stage. The majority of employees are generally good people but simply aren’t a good fit for the position,” she says.

Most everyone working in a lab these days knows that they share many of the same afflictions as office workers since laboratory work requires more and more time tethered to a computer monitor. As such, back, shoulder, and wrist problems have become much more prevalent. Vince McLeod, in this month’s Health & Safety article, addresses the fundamental ergonomic risk factors related to desk work, which are position/posture, repetition/duration, and force. “The good news is that these at-risk conditions that can cause pain and potential injury can often be easily controlled if one understands basic ergonomic concepts and how to apply them.” 

If your lab is considering automating any part of its current workflow, turn to this month’s technology article, “Automating Your Lab”, to determine how to make the best automation choices specific to your needs. “The key to keeping automation as simple as possible starts at the beginning. By identifying the specific spots where automation could do the most good and exploring a variety of solutions, a lab manager increases the odds of a successful implementation,” says author Mike May. For a real-world example of how the automation decision-making process works, check out this month’s Ask the Expert Q&A.

For other timely and valuable technology-specific information, visit this month’s Product Focus, INSIGHTS, and Technology News pages.

Here’s wishing you a safe, joyful, and healthy holiday season.

Pamela Ahlberg