Case Study: Using Best Practices During Interdisciplinary Team Formation

Eye Exam Closeup

In January 2018, the UW Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (DOVS) invited Betsy Rolland to give a presentation about team science to their departmental research retreat. Rolland, then the Assistant Director of Population Sciences for the UW Carbone Cancer Center, recalls the enthusiasm of her audience for learning more about best practices for managing collaborative research projects. Rolland comments,

Betsy RollandNIH has emphasized the importance of team science for quite a while now, but resources to support researchers who engage in team science have been slower to appear, and even slower to be implemented into the practice of team science. The DOVS faculty and staff were excited to learn more about how to make collaborating more effective and efficient.

Rolland’s presentation to the department emphasized both the challenges of conducting science in teams – well understood by those already engaged in collaborative work – and some best practices for addressing those challenges. Developing trust among collaborators, ensuring strong, clear lines of communication, and running projects transparently, all top the list of ways researchers can ease some of the burden of collaboration.

Shortly, a group of investigators from Ophthalmology reached out for assistance with forming a completely new team. They needed to unite engineers, ophthalmologists, and basic scientists in a newly formed Wisconsin Advanced Imaging of Visual Systems (WAIVS) Lab.

Barbara Blodi, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology, Medical Director of the Fundus Photograph Reading Center, and WAIVS team member, notes,

Our challenge was to start this new ocular imaging lab off on the right foot by collaboratively establishing our goals and objectives, including our decision-making and communication policies, and thinking strategically about how we would conduct research together and independently, as well as ultimately deliver patient care.

Working with Betsy allowed us to intentionally develop our approach to collaboration, helping us avoid some of the pitfalls of new collaborative teams. Last year, Betsy facilitated our WAIVS retreat and her involvement was a tremendous help in establishing how we would work together.  I would recommend consulting her for any newly formed team or indeed anyone who wants to take a fresh look at their team dynamics and shared understandings.

Rolland is now the ICTR Director for Team Science and can be contacted at

More information about the ICTR team science initiative