Advancement/Academic Partnerships: Using a Team Science Model to Fund Research

Research Grants: Image of an experiment at a robotics laboratory


Ed Mason, president of EMNR & Associates, is writing this series to assist academic leaders in finding creative strategies to merge public/private funding for existing and new research initiatives. Mason has studied an array of collaborative partnerships between the two offices most focused on external funding (the development office and research & grants), and he will be sharing some of the models he has observed, as well as directions for the future.

We hope you will join us for this innovative series:

In the traditional model for funding academic research at universities, multiple offices and departments interact with faculty in the administration of grants and gifts from external donors. Commonly, these offices do not interact frequently or communicate effectively with each other, which tends to create a “silo” effect. By moving instead to a team science model for defining and funding research initiatives, you will:

  • Increase your chance of success in finding external funding for your research programs from federal agencies and private foundations.
  • Be better able to break down these barriers around your institution’s research projects, speed up communication, and provide clear avenues for conflict resolution.

What is Team Science, and What Does it Mean to Researchers and Development Officers?

Team science is a proven model that creates partnerships between researchers, advancement professionals, and other key stakeholders at your institution. It involves developing strong collaborative teams who will be able to compete and successfully procure funding for high-priority research projects.

Because these teams are able to bring a more holistic, integral approach to solving complex scientific and social problems than lone researchers are likely to, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) are specifically funding team science research, particularly for:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Obesity research
  • Bioengineering
  • Neuroscience
  • Behavioral and social science

According to Holly Falk-Krzesinski, PhD, a leading researcher and presenter on team science: “There’s an increased demand for team science initiatives in academia and by external funding agencies.” For most higher-ed institutions, this represents an untapped opportunity to fund meaningful research at a higher level.

Creating the Right Team

Let’s suppose that your institution is moving forward with using team science to streamlining the funding process and provide more support for research. Your multidisciplinary team should include:

  • Information Technology
  • Pre and post award grant officers
  • Communication and Public Relations
  • A development officer
  • Human Resources
  • Grants Accounting
  • Government Relations
  • Organizational Management
  • Technology Transfer
  • Faculty and Center Directors

Providing the Right Coaching

“Effective scientific collaboration requires the right mix of subject matter experts and team players,” Dr. Falk-Krzensinski advises, “and intervention—coaching—to ensure that collective expertise is maximized.”

It is vital to have skilled facilitators or coaches who can assist the team in keeping on track and being collaborative. You want facilitators who have training in change management or organizational management, who can help individuals — both researchers and development officers — adapt to this new, collaborative process and to working with multiple constituencies across the institution.

Creating the Right Process

Team science is an approach that takes a focused effort, and one that is quite different from how institutions are used to operating. “The literature demonstrates that team science produces higher-impact research,” Dr. Falk-Krzesinski notes, “yet there is also evidence of significant coordination costs for such collaborative endeavors. It is important that we understand the most effective practices for productive interdisciplinary collaboration and team science.”

There are five essential principles for successful team science implementation:
1. Supportive leadership.

Your institution’s leadership needs to understand the importance of the process. Change and organizational management researchers emphasize that the #1 reason that initiatives fail in organizations is the lack of support from leadership. Team science has the capability by harnessing the talents of several talented individuals and departments of greater rewards, but has a longer timeline for succeeding. Leaders need to be aware of the process and understanding that fiscal and personnel resources are essential for success.

2. Resources (budget, time, personnel).
In a team science approach, you need more than one discipline represented. Adequate personnel and monetary resources are essential. Preplanning activities that provide a rough estimate of cost and personnel are helpful in developing successful team science initiatives.
3. A shared vision for implementation and success.
Writing and agreeing to a common vision should be one of the first steps in creating this team. The team should constantly reassess how closely they are adhering to the vision as they move forward with their project. If new members are added to the team, insure that they understand and agree to the vision of the team. This will aid in mitigating future conflict between the team members. It is also important to emphasize the need for skilled facilitators and coaches to assist the team in developing vision statements to pursue common goals.
4. A collaborative process and decision making model.
From the start, you need to:

  • Emphasize common goals
  • Clearly articulate each individual’s role and responsibilities
  • Define the degree of collaboration that is valuable for this specific team

Preplanning activities, regular meetings, knowledge sharing, and team-building exercises that develop deeper trust, resolve conflict early, and help team members embrace new ideas are essential for encouraging successful collaboration.

5. Creativity.
Effective team science initiatives remain creative, flexible and nimble in pursuing long-term goals. The vision and the goals of the team over the course of a few years will change. There will be new opportunities for funding from agencies that will materialize with the maturation of the team. Conversely, other funding sources will change their focus and no longer be available. Your institution’s leadership may move on to other positions. Personnel involved with the team may change. Talking about this and developing mechanisms to deal with the constant change will be critical.

More About Such Opportunities: A Four-Part Series

This is part of a four-part series from Ed Mason, which addresses:

  • Examples of innovative models for funding academic research with private, philanthropic support. (This was the first article, and you can read it here.
  • A three-step process for identifying areas of strength among your institution’s research activities that are particularly well-suited to partnerships for donor or foundation support. You can read more here.
  • How to apply a “team science” research model to funding and administering research initiatives. (This is the article you just read.)
  • Strategies for bridging the communications gap between development and research offices. (Forthcoming.)

Learn More About Team Science

If you’re interested in looking further into the concepts and practice of team science, there are many online resources available.

  • The Northwestern Clinical and Translational Science Institute helped develop in collaboration with NIH the concept of team science. Toolkits, research and articles about team science are at
  • There are team science online learning modules at
  • The Science of Team Science is an organization that studies the dynamics and capabilities of teams that work on research projects. The Science of Team Science has an annual meeting and journal. For more information,
  • The NIH team science website is at
  • The National Organization of Research Development Professionals was created to provide support to a growing number of individuals who work with faculty on large projects that require teams and collaborative partnerships. Their website is

These are just a few of the resources available in this growing field of team science.


I would like to acknowledge the assistance that Holly Falk-Krzesinski Ph.D. provided in understanding more about team science. The telephone interview was invaluable in learning about the rapid strides made in this field. Dr. Falk-Krzesinski is the founder of NORDP. Her academic experience was at Northwestern University where she led initiatives related to research development, grant preparation and team science. She is currently the Vice President for Global Academic and Research Relations for Elsevier.