• Eva Tarabichi

International team leadership in science: 5 steps to become even better!

In this article, I propose 5 steps to enhance leadership skills for leaders of international scientist teams. However, if you are not in the science domain, do carry on reading, much of this will apply to any leader of an international team, too!


As in many domains, the top-level scientific world is working in international teams and projects. Scientific consortia easily comprise 10 or more different nationalities.

Leaders of these teams, have often been propelled into their managing positions because of their scientific merits and are extremely accomplished individuals. However, the current generation of team leaders have often not had extensive people or project management training or experience.


The lack of the leader’s management training and experience as well as internationality of their teams can result in a multitude of problems: extreme pressure and stress on the team leader, inefficient time-management resulting in frustration because of ever-delayed deadlines and project submissions, problems in the team’s (intercultural) communication.


If you are a scientific team leader or researcher, and you know this situation all too well, here are 5 steps to start changing this:


1. Acknowledge that people and time management are proper work domains in themselves.


They deserve a fair amount of your attention and – just like your scientific merits – you have to work towards them to achieve good results! Don’t expect them to just be there by themselves. You have to read up, train yourself, explore strategies that work for you and your specific team.



2.  Open up to your team.


There is no shame in not being the perfect leader from the start! However, you want to be a better leader tomorrow than you were yesterday. Take your team on board. They rely and depend on you for their scientific work. Something they put much effort and heart into. They will appreciate that you put effort and heart into managing them and their work well. How? You could establish a feedback-practice, a regular work-management brainstorming session, simply show them that you are happy to receive ideas on new processes. It is entirely up to you, but be open and take them on board!


3.  Set aside times for different work-streams.


Do you know the feeling of constantly being swamped by managerial tasks and wanting to do more content-related research work? Might this be because your managerial tasks are not streamlined enough or happen to be carried out on an ad hoc basis? Devoting some time into bringing clarity and strategy to your managing tasks will free up time for more content-work. Think of specific times for e-mails, forms, people management, for meetings and calls and for content-work.


4.  Don’t neglect where your team comes from


English is the lingua franca in the scientific world. While that is established and handy, it tends to have the effect that the cultural background of team members is neglected. As a team leader you are managing people. And culture is at the core of what drives people. So: keep reading up and train yourself at intercultural communication and management. It can also be of great help to assess where you stand culturally and get an overview of what other cultural inclinations exist. You will be surprised as to how eye-opening this process can be regarding your team members!

Cultural diversity should result in enrichment rather than disruption.


5.  Know your team! Each person individually!


There is no such thing as “team engagement”. If you want an engaged team, you need every single member of your team to be engaged. For that, you need to know them, understand their background, their situation and where they want to go. What kind of career do they aspire to? Do they have pets, a family that waits for them, parents that need extra care, a special hobby that needs time but allows them to cool off? Investing the time to assess your team members individually will allow you to know what motivates each one of them, what frustrates them, what they aspire to… Can you see how this will allow you to manage them better? Allow yourself to step out of the fuzziness of “team leading” and be a people leader.


I hope I have inspired you to test out my 5 steps! If you would like some more ideas, help with any of the above or support with your international team of expat and non-expat researchers: Please feel free to reach out and schedule in a free call with me.



You can reach me on +44 (0)74 868 57457 or via e-mail: eva@tarabichicoaching.com

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