Maximizing team effectiveness:  Mutual learning for team science success

Putting the theory of effective team functioning into practice appears obvious to people at the outset. This assertion is made based on many conversations with individuals who are building teams or who have run into challenges after their establishment. While it seems clear how to move a collaborative research project forward, when the team gets stuck it can be perplexing to diagnose what stalled the team and how to remedy it. 

The goal of this workshop is to introduce participants to a method of interacting that enhances the overall effectiveness of the team. The method, called Mutual Learning, provides individuals with the opportunity to begin examining their values, assumptions and behaviors as they pertain to working in teams. Developing the awareness and practice of integrating these elements into teams and organizations can move teams quickly from the forming to performing stage of team functioning. In addition, it provides the foundation for sustaining successful teams over time.

 Workshop objectives include the following:

  1. Understand Mutual Learning Team Science Framework: How Mutual Learning enhances collaboration effectiveness in highly integrated and interactive teams.
  2. Transparency and Curiosity: Using these core values to create a culture of trust, psychological safety, and a common pool of knowledge for effectively making decisions and solving problems in the team setting.
  3. Testing Assumptions and Inferences. Identifying and exploring fundamental differences within your team. These hidden and powerful differences create barriers to effective collaboration.

Participants will leave the workshop understanding key theories and be able to put into practice:

  1. The roles transparency and curiosity play in everyday team conversations.
  2. How to test assumptions and inferences with others.
  3. Ability to integrate this knowledge, in combination with the characteristics of successful team functioning, to establish trust, set expectations, create and maintain a shared vision, as well as share credit, resources, and decision-making.

Becoming skilled in the Mutual Learning approach provides very concrete mindset elements and behaviors that when practiced can enhance collaboration skills at the individual level and lead to benefits for both teams and the organizations they work in. Organizational leadership interested in supporting, launching, and sustaining teams will learn that cultures can be created in which interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary (convergence) research can thrive.

This workshop is open to anyone who has interest in learning how to increase team effectiveness. The workshop would be especially beneficial to existing teams, people who work with teams and/or mentor them, and leaders of organizations interested in understanding the importance of organizational culture as it pertains to effective team functioning.

The format of this workshop will be a mix of didactic and interactive (handouts, exercises, group discussion), with the schedule as follows:

  1. Introduction to Team Science and The Mutual Learning Team Science Framework [30 min - didactic]
    - Key Take-Away: The elements that need to be in place for you to create an effective team
  2. Transparency and Curiosity. Using these core values to create a culture of trust, psychological safety, and a common pool of knowledge for effectively making decisions and solving problems [65 min - interactive
    - Key Take-Aways and Tools: Applying the SEA Model (State Views, Explain Reasoning, Ask Genuine Questions) during conversation and Identifying and opening “gifts”
  3. Testing Assumptions and Inferences. Identifying and exploring fundamental differences within your team. These hidden and powerful differences create as barriers to effective collaboration. [60 min – interactive and didactic – 50%/50%]
    - Key Take-Aways and Tools: Becoming aware of when you are making assumptions and inferences that reduce your and the team’s effectiveness and learning how to test them and Applying the mutual learning cycle to test your and others’ assumptions
  4. Carrying it forward. Identify one thing you want to commit to practicing tomorrow [10 min - interactive]


L. Michelle Bennett, Ph.D., has extensive practical experience in promoting collaboration and team-based approaches by bringing together research scientists with diverse backgrounds and expertise to solve complex scientific problems. She is sought by individuals, teams, and institutions to help them devise strategies to promote collaboration and team-based approaches to scientific research. She co-authored Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide(available at Dr. Bennett earned her Ph.D. in oncology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison studying genetic susceptibility to cancer and as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, performed some of the earliest work on BRCA1 and BRCA2 including the characterization and localization of BRCA1 to the long arm of Chromosome 17. She currently directs the Center for Research Strategy (CRS) at the National Cancer Institute, NIH. CRS is a science-based office that since 2015 collaboratively develops recommendations for addressing scientific opportunities. She is the recipient of many awards, including Institute Director’s Awards, the NCI Women’s Scientist Advisors Achievement Award, and the NCI Exceptional Mentor Award.

Roger Schwarz, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist, speaker, leadership team consultant, and president and CEO of Roger Schwarz & Associates. He helps teams get three results: strong performance, solid working relationships, and individual well-being. His clients include global corporations, federal government agencies, educational institutions, and national nonprofit organizations. Underlying all of his work is the premise that to create fundamental and sustainable change, people need to change not only their behavior, but their mindset. Roger is the author of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, , Coaches and Trainers, and co-editor of The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook: Tips, Tools, and Tested Methods for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches. He writes for Harvard Business Review. A former professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Roger earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and an M.Ed from Harvard University. For more information, visit