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The Black Hole

The importance of having a multidisciplinary team

Part of being self-aware is recognizing where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and being able to fill those gaps on your team with those who will be both a good technical and cultural fit.


During the first week of February, I was an invited lecturer for the International Mentoring Foundation for the Advancement of Higher Education (IMFAHE)’s workshop on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. The IMFAHE is a non-profit and apolitical association, created for and by international professionals affiliated to top institutions in the world. It promotes excellence and career development through mentorship, webinars, workshops, and international fellowships, bridging the gap between talent and opportunity.

My session was titled ‘Test Your Idea. Take your idea into a project, a prototype, and a company.” It is one of a number of online courses offered each year for the purposes of enabling scientists to become innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in their communities, and help them create a positive impact on society.

You can view my seminar here:

While this session was very well received, the discussion that ensued was particularly insightful and warrants exploring. I have paraphrased questions for succinctness and clarity.

“How important is it for a company to establish a multidisciplinary team? What professional profiles are key for a company to launch?”

JT: There is no standard template, but teams need to be multidisciplinary and everyone within a team adds something to the mix. Part of being self-aware is that you need to recognize where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are. That is not just true on the individual level but also as the company builds, on the company level. What skill sets does the company need to have and which of those skill sets are you providing? And which of those skill sets are you not providing that needs to be filled by someone who can? In that way, the team that you start bringing together should have complementary skill sets. Obviously, what those limitations or challenges are for the team builds off that core set of employees.

When it is just you, there is very little that you are good at and a lot that you are not good enough at so you have to open up the playing field. You can pretty much recruit anyone and they would be a value-add, within reason. As you start building the team the next person in, and the person after that, you start filling some of those gaps. If you bring on a person who is incredible with strategy, incredible with finance, incredible with business, but not a scientist, then a good chunk of the work around the finance and business is now being addressed because you have got someone that can cover those.

If you start realizing that maybe you need to buffer up an element of the science now, and [eg.] you have a ton of cell biology/manufacturing expertise but you do not have a lot of genetic engineering/molecular biology expertise, maybe the next hire should be a scientist with that background. Slowly you can build up the team with complementing skill sets. When you think about complementing the team there is technical fit that you are trying to solve for – skill sets that the company needs; but there is also a cultural fit that you are trying to solve for. People have personalities. Successful teams engage with one another. There are some people with exceptional skill sets that would just not be a cultural fit for the organization because they would not relate to the others the right way. There are others that relate very well and ‘grease the wheels,’ so to speak, and help things happen a lot more efficiently, faster, with less conflict just because of the way the are, their personality, and the way they engage. Cultural fit is as important as technical fit, and I would venture in some cases even more important than technical fit for a successful team to operate.

Jonathan Thon
Jonathan Thon is a serial entrepreneur and founding CEO of STRM.BIO. Before STRM.BIO Dr. Thon founded Stellular Bio where he served as CEO and chief scientific officer. Before Stellular Bio, Dr. Thon was an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
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