Collaborative Research: Understanding Team Success and Failure

Project: Research project

Project Details


One of the most universal and fundamental shifts in science and technology today is the flourishing of large teams in all areas of science, scholarship and invention as solitary researchers and small teams diminish. But while teams constitute the social engines that drive new developments in science and technology, we know very little about how teams of different sizes and shapes think and influence collective advance. Teams can be large or small, more or less structurally integrated, and involve different combinations of member roles--advisors, team leaders and designers versus the students, post-docs and engineers that implement and improvise research and development plans. Prior investigations have clearly documented the career advantages teams confer on their members, but not whether or how they influence scientific discovery and technological invention. Experimental and observational research on groups, networks and communities, however, suggest that size and structure predictably influence individual and collective cognition, communication, information seeking and risk tolerance. Inspired by our own preliminary research suggesting massive difference in how magnitude and structure influence R&D team outcomes, we propose a two stage research program to understand how teams of different sizes and shapes “think differently” and can be designed to accelerate scientific and technological development. First, we will to evaluate more than 100 million R&D teams over 100 years that publish discoveries, patent inventions, and share software repositories in terms of their size, network structure, and role composition relative to four critical science and technology outcomes: 1) novelty; 2) individual importance; 3) collective advance; and 4) robustness. Second, we will use insights developed from that investigation to launch large-scale online team experiments to isolate mechanisms that causally drive these effects and can be used to design teams optimized for specific discovery, inventive and development purposes.
Effective start/end date8/15/1810/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (SMA-1829344)


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