Team culture

We discuss team culture because while we know that diverse teams are more innovative, creating spaces where everyone can do their best work and feel safe to contribute takes intention; it does not happen by default. There is a lot of work to do to improve research culture, and we can lead by example in our own research groups and communities.


Team culture. These slides were developed in 2019, before we updated to the above Psychological safety slides in 2021.

Psychological safety (slides | recording). This presentation was contributed by Matt Fisher, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for the 2024 NASA Openscapes Champions Cohort.

See also the chapter on Codes of Conduct.

Why talk about team culture?

Role modeling sets a lot of team culture, and there is a lot we can learn and do to deliberately create a scientific culture that we want to be a part of.

Psychological safety

Amy C. Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School.

a shared belief that team members will not be rejected or embarrassed for speaking up with their ideas, questions, or concerns

They recommend three ways to build psychologically safe environments: framing, inquiry, and bridging boundaries.

Frame meetings as opportunities for information-sharing. Frame differences as a source of value.

Open questions. Questions that build shared ownership and causality.

Listening -

Hopes and goals. What do you want to accomplish?
Resources and skills. What do you bring to the table?
Concerns and obstacles. What are you up against? What are you worried about?

Science benefits from diversity

And we need to be deliberate about welcoming and including people from diverse backgrounds.

A few recent articles from Nature with many more links within:

Sexual harassment is rife in the sciences

Sexual harassment is rife in the sciences, finds landmark US study. Existing policies to address the issue are ineffective, concludes a long-awaited report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Most common form is gender harassment: it’s the “put-downs as opposed to come-ons”.

We need to unlearn racism and build antiracist culture in science

Put your values forward

Model the behavior you want to see in your research group & beyond (lab, dept, campus, organization, online)

Building trust

Have to build trust and be intentional, don’t hope for organic.

Sustain the culture

Overtly showing kindness & a Code of Conduct can filter out people who don’t want to be subject to its enforcement – rOpenSci

Labs have people coming and going all the time; how do you set the tone and have it be sustainable?

Deliberately setting the tone

Opening remarks at RStudio::conf 2019, in front of an audience of 1700 at a global software conference, Chief Scientist Hadley Wickham announces the Code of Conduct, how to identify RStudio staff if you need help, and how to mingle with welcoming body posture to invite others to join. This set the tone of the whole conference to be the most positive I have ever attended.


We must deliberately set the tone for collegiality to create a positive, inclusive research group environment.

Safety and accessibility as parts of inclusion and empowerment. Does everyone feel safe to speak up? Does everyone have channels to contribute? This is especially true as the tech we use evolves. Who can participate?

This builds resilience to your research group. If someone needs to leave for a family emergency, maternity/paternity leave, vacation, set yourselves up so your team continue smoothly/ — Angela Bassa RStudio talk

Opportunity cost of not doing this. Burnout, people leaving science.

Team efficiency

We must deliberately set the tone to create a positive, inclusive research group environment that fuels team efficiency.

This means create a team mindset, and focusing on similarities rather differences. We all work on different projects and have different research questions, but we all have to wrangle data, organize version files, have things we don’t know…let’s create a space where we can talk about all this and find common ground to tackle together so we don’t reinvent.

There can be an advantage to having team conventions. This can both reduce friction and reinventing the wheel. But there also needs to be room for different skills people come in with. For example, if they’re more efficient in Python, don’t want to force R. But want to create space where folks can interoperate and work together. The tech/software side helps with this, but it’s our mindsets too. We need to be open to it.

Open software can facilitate open/shared culture

A lot to say here, for now, see:

Enabling & participating

Here are some ideas that you can support and participate in to learn and create a kinder team culture:

Seaside chats – discuss share data workflows

From Michelle Stuart’s blog about the Pinsky Lab’s first Fishbowl chat:

This open communication has leaked into the general discussion going on in our open work space. Lab members seem more comfortable with asking teammates for help, and it is exciting to see all of us getting on the same page with our data science.”�

Hackathons or documentation parties – co-create

Social events

Get to know each other outside of work. Do some during work hours can include more people who can’t participate after work

Onboarding – how to welcome new people to your research group

Asking for help

Create a welcoming environment where they know where to ask for help – They won’t know what questions to ask. Provide structure.

Code of Conduct (next chapter)!

Further Resources