Celebrating team diversity

Hope you’ve had a good summer. This summer I completed the yearly staff evaluation process with my lab members where I meet with each person to go over their past performance and areas for future development. This meeting is formal in the sense that it is a responsibility delegated to me, the PI, by the university as an employer. It is nevertheless a very personal ordeal as I get insights into the individual experiences of the people behind the science conducted in my lab.

This year, I vowed to make an effort to give more honest and constructive feedback. This I think is an essential quality of a good leader and is something that I, with self-identified ‘obliger’ tendencies, have not been good at in the past. Before the meeting I asked each person to reflect over and write down 3 strengths and 3 areas for future development. Without cheating, I would write down what I personally thought. I scheduled no more than one meeting a week so that there would be ample time for me to reflect over the unique strengths and weaknesses of each person. We would then go somewhere outside the lab, to a neutral environment, and have a candid conversation while comparing notes. One thing that struck me was that each persons greatest strength was intricately linked to their greatest weakness (myself included). Two sides of the same coin and one wouldn’t exist without the other. This awareness was a great realisation that not only made me appreciate the uniqueness of each person, but also what an incredible asset diversity is to a team. Rather than trying to ‘fix’ our individual shortcomings, a better approach maybe to gain awareness of what those areas are, embrace them as a part of our DNA, and surround ourselves with colleagues different from ourselves. Leveraging our strengths and mitigating our weaknesses.

I think the lab appreciated the exercise as well.

From personal experience I know more than anyone that a career in science is an ultra personal journey across scientific disciplines, cultural and geographical boundaries. All of which taking place during the prime years of family planning. The uncertainties, competitiveness and rejections that we face everyday, as well as personal sacrifices brought about by the mobility requirements in this line of work, all contribute to stress… but also accelerated personal growth and enhanced self-awareness. Each of our personal journeys leave unique finger prints in our science and a diverse constellation of team members develop the most unusual projects.

Good old fashioned analog sign-up sheet stuck to my office door for 4 months…