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Perspectives on teamwork for technology transfer job candidates  

 

Su-Jun Lim-Higbie
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April 28, 2020 6:24 pm  

Working at a technology transfer office is different in that being a coherent team is crucial due to the many moving parts throughout the technology commercialization process. At my job, I am always working with one colleague or another, with the researchers, or other university administrators on multiple projects.

In a typical organizational structure of a university technology transfer office, the Vice President of Research or equivalent is at the top of the organization, followed by a Director, Associate Directors, Senior Licensing Associates, Licensing Associates, Contracts Officers and Administrators. Everyone has a different role that depends on the other and therefore relies on the ability of the entire team to function as one.

Demonstrating Qualities of a Good Team Member

If you are a job candidate, what can you do to demonstrate that you are a fantastic team member? What can you do to stand out from the crowd?
Instead of using trite terms like “team player”, you should follow the STAR strategy, which stands for situation, task, action and result (Hansen & Wikipedia), for your resumes, cover letters and interviews. Identify a situation, describe the actions you took, and followed by the results accomplished.

Leadership

Leadership skills can be applied to all levels in an organization. Higher-level leaders need to be able to articulate the goals for the entire team. However, as graduate students or postdocs, it is more relevant that you demonstrate your commitment to support fellow colleagues and your abilities to manage up. Perhaps you volunteered to maintain your lab mate’s tissue cultures while he or she was on medical leave; perhaps the undergraduates at the lab won awards for their projects under your mentorship; or that you organized a well-received seminar series for the department. The idea is to describe a situation where you can explain how you showed your support for your team members and how you built your leadership skills.

Taking Responsibilities

Having teammates who do not take their responsibilities seriously is one of the common ways for teams to flounder. Therefore, hiring managers will look for candidates who can follow through on their commitments. You should utilize the aforementioned STAR technique to convince your potential employer that you are reliable, committed to your responsibilities and dedicated to accomplishing your goals, which are of course – aligned to the team’s goals.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is likely the most important quality among all. In addition to the ability to write well technically, interpersonal communication skills are of utmost importance. Do you get along with your coworkers? Are you trustworthy? How did you resolve a conflict? Do you have good listening skills and emotional intelligence? Do you work on improving your communication skills continuously?

Choosing the Right Team

When you are offered a position, it would be wise to carefully consider your decision and select a group that shows solid team qualities. Being in the right team and the right environment will propel you in your career. On the contrary, being in a dysfunctional team may set you back and impact your career in the future.
Technology transfer offices range in size. Regardless of the sizes, teamwork is crucial as they are often tasked to handle oversized portfolios. In addition, the fact that there are many moving parts in technology commercialization adds additional layers of complexity in the process. These teams have to function as one to achieve the desired outcomes.

The Team’s Collective Goal

When you are considering accepting a job offer, take all the opportunities to interact with everyone at the office before you make a decision. Just like interviews for postdoc positions, you should ask many questions in many different ways. Does the team have a clear message and an overarching goal? Does everyone work towards the common goals of the team? The key is to ask questions strategically and politely.

Communication

As mentioned, effective communication is one of the most important qualities and crucial to a team’s performance. If most of the staff members are not aware of what the others are doing, it might be a sign of communication problems within the team. In a supportive environment, team members would not hesitate to reach out to their colleagues for help and conversely, help others solve problems regularly.

The Intangible Clues

If you could participate in a staff meeting or a group lunch during your interview, pay attention to the group dynamics and watch how they interact with each other. In addition, it would also be useful to meet and talk with the researchers, licensees or the patent attorneys who are not office employees but work regularly with the office. Feedback from these individuals will provide important clues.

Conclusion

It takes some adjustment for scientists to transition from a laboratory setting to work in a technology transfer office. However, technology transfer can be very rewarding if you are interested in working with innovations, like solving problems and enjoy working in a team. In order to secure a job, you need to demonstrate that you can be a good team member who will add value to the team. When you receive a job offer, make sure to take sufficient time to consider your options, evaluate the team and make a decision wisely.


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Sir Tim Hunt
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May 13, 2020 2:54 pm  

How do you really know if you are dealing with dysfunctional team?


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Dave Jensen
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May 14, 2020 11:56 pm  

Hello Colleague 45751

It would be great if you were to please add a handle of some kind to your name so that we don't have to use this long site-generated moniker.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

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Dave Jensen
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May 15, 2020 12:04 am  

"How do you really know that you are in a dysfunctional team?"

Great question. I invited the original poster to come back and reply to you, but I'm frankly not sure she will. So, here's my advice on this topic.

As you know, there are a great number of different styles for managers. Just because you've got an Autocratic manager for your team doesn't mean that the team automatically has to be labeled "dysfunctional." The term could be applied to any team where people are pulling in every different direction.

As I said, any team (even one with a bad boss) could still have people in that team who drive forward with a sense of mission and purpose, and who take others with them on that same journey. Therefore, I think the most "noticeable" element of a "dysfunctional" team would be whether everyone is pulling oars in the same direction. If that's the case, and you have no one in there throwing grenades of dissension, you are doing great, no matter the style of the boss.

Sometimes the company CEO is so strong that she or he is enough to keep everyone from becoming dysfunctional. The CEO drives the entire company along by her sense of mission. People will either buy into that or they won't, and at the individual team level you'll have followers/believers as well as naysayers who, in the better organizations, get drowned out and eventually wash from the company.

Clearly, there are other pointers to dysfunction that could be discussed here if the idea has merit.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

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DX
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May 15, 2020 8:43 am  

HI both,

If you go back and re-read the original poster's article, you'll see that there is some information on how to spot a dysfunctional team, - Dave you reiterated a couple.

Lack of common objective or vision is a big one.     

And then Dave already mentioned non-communication of team members and the author noted those "intangible" things - just looking at interactions, body language, listening to words used.  Listening to your gut goes a long way.  Asking yourself after an interview.."do I want to work with this team" ..goes a long way.  You get a feel.

But go back and re-read, the original post. And the other part is sometimes irrespective of good signs and symptoms, a decision to take a job and join a team always carries risk.  Just like you're trying to look your best in an interview, trust me on this, so is the team and those who you interview with. You may not get the answers you're looking for. You may not get much insights into politics or you just may not spot dysfunction.  It can happen.   

And I close with this thought: sometimes, just sometimes, for an individual, a dysfunctional team, can be a good thing.  But that's a discussion for the realm of the tenured, experienced, and, (ahem) corrupted (wink wink).

DX

 

 


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Dave Jensen
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May 19, 2020 4:56 pm  

DX said, "I close with this thought: sometimes, just sometimes, for an individual, a dysfunctional team, can be a good thing. But that's a discussion for the realm of the tenured, experienced, and, (ahem) corrupted (wink wink)."

I'm having a hard time figuring this one out DX. I'm not good at wink-wink situations (too much "in the gray" for me, as I am unfortunately a black-and-white person who needs to be hit over the head in order to get a point.) Can you share more about what you mean?

One advantage I can think of where the dysfunctional team is good for the old hand would be one where that person can use this dysfunction as the "low hanging fruit" to go in and fix it. Get it straight and put those stars on your chest in the organization -- it CAN help your move upwards.

Dave

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Sir Tim Hunt
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May 22, 2020 8:38 pm  

Pardon the name change; maybe the queen will knight me and I will win a Nobel Prize. Always admired the scientist who discovered cyclin; Tim Hunt.

I guess the only way to avoid a dysfunctional team is to ask tough questions of the hiring manager and his team. This presents a problem because this might turn the hiring manager away because you might be viewed as a potential pain. However, they might respect you for it and you can look for any red flags in their reaction to these questions.

DX, I have to agree with Dave. Nobody needs a dysfunctional team. Usually, it is created by a dysfunctional supervisor who is selfish and controlling. Narcissism and selfishness destroys team productivity. Maybe corporate/company HR psychological testing should screen out this potential traits among candidates. If was a CEO, this is what I would screen for in candidates.

Guess candidates have to do it themselves; when you want it done right.

To Dave's point earlier, sometimes it is the dysfunctional personality of the CEO and the owner of a private company that creates a culture of "yes" men who drink the kool aid in order to keep their jobs. Fearful employees to the outside create this public perception that the company is this idyllic place to work. Plus, the CEO is consumed with his own notoriety and publicity. I know of several companies that fit into this group one of which was featured on CNN whereby the CEO gave his employees a 1.6M bonus; yet in reality he is a slumlord that treats his tenants horribly and turns over employees frequently. Plus, he routinely sues former customers who are critical of his company online. Not a place that I would want to work at.

So, how do you ask the tough questions w/o offending; maybe ask once you have an offer in hand and then ask the serious questions.


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DX
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May 24, 2020 9:33 pm  
Posted by: Dave Jensen

DX said, "I close with this thought: sometimes, just sometimes, for an individual, a dysfunctional team, can be a good thing. But that's a discussion for the realm of the tenured, experienced, and, (ahem) corrupted (wink wink)."

I'm having a hard time figuring this one out DX. I'm not good at wink-wink situations (too much "in the gray" for me, as I am unfortunately a black-and-white person who needs to be hit over the head in order to get a point.) Can you share more about what you mean?

One advantage I can think of where the dysfunctional team is good for the old hand would be one where that person can use this dysfunction as the "low hanging fruit" to go in and fix it. Get it straight and put those stars on your chest in the organization -- it CAN help your move upwards.

Dave

Hi Dave and Tim,

 

So I left my caveat there and in the context of that, again is for the tenured and experience and would not suggest ANY one ever enter a dysfunctional team. And emphasis for the individual. where maybe the corrupt comes, because its not thinking much about the team.  Still about company, but one can't think about team too much anymore...its dysfunctional. 

What does happen, and its more often the case, is you either A. enter a dysfunctional team by mistake (this thread) or B. and most often the case "inherit" them. 

To my point on tenured and experienced, I've inherited them and my mistake, join'ed em.

Lets face it, today organizations and therefore teams and culture change very very rapidly. (That means politics too). To suggest other wise is disengenous and in the realm of the non experienced.  Hero can become zero really fast when dysfunction sets in.

So back to my caveat, for the individual, if one does get in them, by accident or inheritance, some low hanging fruit, I would say, is getting to do what you want to do. 

Of course that intersects with ensuring that what you do is aligned with company needs, what ever so called team needs could be in that case, AND the source of the dysfunction.  For example, I got a narricist boss once, inherited.  Whole team crumbled basically, save for one or 2 favored members of the team mainly drawn in from the outside.  I was hero to zero overnight, new boss had an agenda, I was not part of it. So, that boss paid no attention to me. 

Got to do what I wanted to do.  I filled the narricist boss needs of getting some non-important things, least to that individua,  done - to the benefit of my CV, among other things - less than a year later with some tools in my belt, I pulled the rip cord.  

I would say in that circumstance, trying the "fix it" would have been career/job suicide. The root cause of the dysfunction was the boss's agenda and the behavior of that boss tolerated by their boss. So that any action to fix it well, would have been detrimental even more to my status then.  I don't think fix it is the best idea per se. But again it depends on many factors I wont list. But if one can navigate a dysfunctional team good enough to have a "fix it" plan that does not evoke career/job limiting immune responses then, all good.

By to that boss, I was going no where.  Tim raised a great point, many times source of dysfunction comes from above, not below.   I've been in other dysfunctional teams, survived and thrive.  Been burned too, that's how I learned, so with tenure and experience, corrupt enough to run my agenda (always beyond reproach), I made it work.   

Yup, its short-term and one learns this stuff in career right, and mentioned it just so the audience knows that - it can happen, and if it does, look for the good.

I remember during the one time I  just highlighted when I was navigating that dysfunctional, I did complain a lot to a very very narrowed group of confidents.

One confident and colleague of mine was giving a toast celebrating an important re-org an he called me out in his speech "see the good" he said.  99 percent had no clue why he said that to me, to include the narricist boss, but I knew.  He called out some other names too, he was a great leader, still is.

I saw the good.  Another time, I ran into another dysfunctional team, the boss was complete narricist, siloed, my god it was terrible. His boss, useless. Organization, terrible.  But, I got what I wanted.  And out.   

So in summary, don't get into them, do look for the dysfunctional teams and run away/get out as first objective. Becareful on trying to fix.  Watch the political environment. But they will be encountered! That's nearly inevitable. See the good if one can.  Navigate it. And try to get out while still getting what you can and yeah, may have to be a bit corrupt ….maybe that's a surrogate word for, "seeing the good" and taking it (aka individual as noted above). 

Compartmentalizing is a bit part of it, stress can be high, but learning to let go is a piece of it.  Something I've learned more and more as I grew in tenure and experience.  

And the good part is that, because I know dysfunction, I ensure I don't have that in the teams I lead and operate in. And I do nip some dysfuction if I see it (I choose battles, you learn that too).  It also helps that I have clout, something I've earned. 

Feel free to ask any more questions, I can talk to behaviors and actions I take to minimize dysfunction (there are many types and a lot of causes, though always one and only one root cause, agenda).   I actually enjoy talking about ogranziational and team behavior, i'm an experiential expert so to speak. 

DX

 

 

 

 

This post was modified 5 months ago 2 times by DX

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Dave Jensen
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May 26, 2020 11:26 pm  

DX, Really good follow up . . .  I certainly appreciate it.

Dave

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