7 top tips for collaboration in research teams

Successful collaboration can lead to high-impact findings and new funding sources. It can also make your research more accessible to your peers and the general public.

Kathryn Huggett and others suggest some detailed ways to form and manage collaborative groups. Here are excerpts from two of them:

Identify a leader

When working in groups, identify a leader to monitor progress and ensure materials are shared without duplicated efforts. This leader may be the same person who convened the group, but it is not essential. Ideally, the collaboration will always have at least one core champion for the project, but other leaders may emerge as the work progresses.

Recognize when collaboration should end or change direction

Collaborators share results through dissemination, which can end a successful project. If collaborations fail, closure should be reached without blame. Open sharing of concerns and effective management of difficult conversations can help. In formal collaborations, a succession plan should be developed to address staff changes and grant expiration.

Five more tips for research collaboration come from the journal Nature.

Be strategically selective

Consider the time and resources needed for a collaborative project. Determine if it meets a specific need in your research and helps you reach your career goals.

Develop a written agreement

Establish goals, roles, and responsibilities for each team member at the outset of the project. Use a collaboration agreement to outline timelines, intellectual property, and authorship, and establish criteria for authorship. This upfront work can help align the team toward a common objective and avoid surprises later.

Communicate about failures as well as successes

Communicate regularly with your team and don’t be afraid to share any issues that may arise. Keeping everyone informed of any delays or problems will help the project leader adapt the timeline or task-list accordingly.

Create different types of outputs

There are many ways to report your research, including articles, preprints, datasets, conference presentations and posters. You can build these into your collaboration framework and management plan. A website can help you communicate your results to the public and make your project more visible and accessible to other academics and potential collaborators. You can also share other outputs, such as images, maps, videos, or animations on your website. Make sure you regularly revisit your outputs throughout your collaboration to see if there are any new opportunities that you might not have considered earlier. This becomes particularly important as you reach the end of a planned set of studies or your grant funding.

Be a team player

Finally, collaborative research brings together researchers of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, leading to innovation. Adapting to different ways of thinking and working can be challenging, but being flexible and open to new ideas is worthwhile.