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Webinar #20: Leading research teams for success

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Are you aware of the additional responsibilities and challenges that come with leading a research team?

Beyond conducting experiments and sharing your findings, leading a research team also means supporting the careers and well-being of each individual in the team, whilst at the same time ensuring team members co-ordinate effectively to deliver outstanding research. Challenges can emerge such as differences in opinion about authorship, unequal distribution of work among team members, or the difficulty in aligning researchers who have diverse expertise and personalities.

Effective leadership is crucial to making high quality research happen. Whether it's your first time leading a research project, or if you are looking to expand your leadership impact, this upcoming webinar is for you. We will discuss what is a team, what sorts of leadership work best, and how you can ensure you maximise the success of your team.

Lead of the Women in Research initiative, ARC Laureate Fellow and John Curtin Distinguished Professor Sharon Parker (Curtin University), was joined by Distinguished Professor Anne Castles (Macquarie University) and Scientia Professor Kaarin Antsey (UNSW) in sharing their valuable insights into establishing and leading successful research teams and centres.

Professor Sharon Parker provided evidence-based and practical tips for building and managing successful teams:

  • A successful team is a combination of a great team performance and team viability. If the team is falling apart or constantly fighting, it's not viable, and if the team gets along great but doesn't achieve its goals, it's also not successful.

  • Recognise process losses and their impact on team effectiveness. Process losses occur within teams when coordination and teamwork become more time-consuming or problematic than the benefits they bring.

  • Mitigate process losses via effective (Marks et al., 2001):

o Set up / transition processes: Involve planning clarifying goals, roles, strategies, and success factors to establish a shared understanding within the team.

o Action processes: Doing the task, monitoring progress, coordinating tasks, and addressing interdependence among team members.

o Interpersonal processes: Focus on managing people-related challenges, conflicts, and building trust within the team.

  • Ensure effective team coordination and communication by setting up clear task-sharing strategies for administrative tasks, fostering appropriate norms of behaviour, and utilising meetings as a means of facilitating communication within the team.

  • Consider the purpose and function of your behaviour in order to effectively role model desired approaches from your team

  • Prioritise prevention of personal conflict by establishing clear roles, fostering psychological safety, and addressing emerging conflicts early (and skillfully)

  • Sharon’s favourite quote: “But alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Advice from Professor Kaarin Antsey, Director of the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute and Co-Deputy Director of the current ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research:

  • Researchers are taught how to do research, but not necessarily how to manage and lead in academia

  • Seeking leadership training can be highly beneficial. Even though it may not address all specific issues, the skills learned can help navigate unique challenges. For example, when Kaarin had to deal with the intricacies of an IP (Intellectual Property) agreement without knowing where to turn to for support.

  • Learn to allocate your time and think carefully about your time

  • University policies are there to help you manage some of the HR issues that you will encounter during your career.

  • Establish processes and expectations around transparency, so that you can track errors and you can also hand over between staff if something goes wrong.

Advice from Professor Anne Castles, Scientific Director of the Macquarie University Centre for Reading:

  • It is important to create a scenario where every team member is a leader and engages in leadership activities.

  • Everybody in the team, appropriately to their level, should take responsibility for administrative roles.

  • Involving junior researchers in tasks (such as managing social media accounts) can foster their commitment to the team.

  • Celebrating successes is something that really helps to cement a group culture.

  • Ensure there is open communication between junior and senior members of the team.

  • The leader should be part of the team, not an authoritarian figure.

  • Careful recruitment and selection are essential –focus on not only the right expertise, finding individuals who understand the team's goals and dynamics.

  • Clearly define roles and expectations before starting a new project

  • Leadership ultimately involves making sure that everybody on the team is a leader, understands their role and can advise up as well as advise down.

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