There are many reasons teams are formed. For our early career Centre members, you are likely to be undertaking new research and administrative roles as you engage in teamwork within the Centre. Team effectiveness for the Centre’s tasks and research projects, with many examples on display in our 2021 Annual Report, will vary along a complex continuum, from low to high levels of success. As you are encouraged to do so in your own research activities, I would also encourage you to engage and learn from your experiences along this continuum and use your learnings to improve the overall teamwork effectiveness in our Centre of Excellence.
Throughout my career, I have learnt many things about working in and leading teams. Here, I would like to highlight three that I frequently reflect upon:
Firstly, through effective teamwork it is possible to achieve much more than when we operate as individuals. I am certain that all of you can identify examples of this from your own life experiences.
Secondly, something that may be familiar to you but less obvious; when working on new and complex problems, where there are no answers in the back of the textbook that you can use to check how you are doing. There are often many more ways to make teams unsuccessful and to fail than there are to discover how to make teams effective and succeed in solving the problem at hand. I encourage you to continually seek out the pathways that can help your teams succeed.
Thirdly, there is the potential for great wisdom in effective teams that goes beyond a collection of the wisdom of the individuals within the team. This is more than an enthusiasm for teamwork. A colleague from my past investigations of effective teamwork, Professor Scott Page, has undertaken innovative and extensive research on this topic. Scott has published a number of primary research articles and a few books on team effectiveness. A highly accessible account that I would encourage all to read is “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies”. The “diversity” aspect of Scott’s research has always been particularly interesting to me. The deep diversity aspects Scott considers within his teamwork investigations go well beyond those that are normally emphasised when discussing diversity. Importantly, Scott demonstrates how the diversity of experiences and accumulated knowledge of individuals with different backgrounds, frequently brings different perspectives.
If we can learn how to listen to all team members, the potential for novel solutions can come from the emergent interactions between the novel ideas and insights, and the ability of team members to consider how to use those insights. I have been fortunate enough to see the emergence of such novel solutions for difficult problems from the combined efforts of effective teams that embraced the interactions of the diverse team members. In many cases the solutions that emerged from effective teamwork were well beyond the solutions that were within reach of the individual team members when only accessing the expertise of their own disciplinary domains.
At the Centre for Plant Success, we are bringing together individuals across disciplines, universities, cultural backgrounds, and career levels to work towards a collective goal. Our Centre provides all members with the opportunity to benefit from effective teamwork and to discover such emergent solutions from “the collective wisdom of teams”. I encourage everyone to seek and embrace such opportunities as you participate in teamwork.
Professor Mark Cooper
Deputy Director and Node Leader, The University of Queensland