One of my favorite children’s books is “Seven Blind Mice.” This book retells the ancient Indian tale of seven blind men who try to decide what an elephant is like based on examining one part of it. In this book, it is seven blind mice that examine the elephant; six of them draw incorrect conclusions based on one feel, whereas the seventh mouse takes his time, and learns the truth about the elephant. The moral of the story is that, “Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole.”
Similarly, in industry, the wisdom to develop products, be it a computer, a drug, or a car, comes from seeing the whole. With that in mind, matrix organizations are common and teamwork becomes a necessity. Because of the size and complexity of drug development, we have experts in each area, but we need the seventh mouse to see the whole picture. At any level of a project, we work in teams where everybody brings different expertise and different perspectives. The key is not to act like the blind mice, assuming that the others are wrong, but realize that by putting together all the pieces, you can see the whole picture.
As a member of the team, it is essential to have enough self – awareness to realize that within your expertise, you cannot see the whole picture. I have seen many teams where each individual thinks that their function is the most important one, be it discovery, marketing, regulatory, or manufacturing. It is true that without any of those functions the program will not go further, but it is also true that all of those functions are critical and your function is not the only one that counts. Going into a team then, you can become a better contributor if you remain open to your teammates’ views and perspectives.
It is also important to be able to communicate at different levels, so that your teammates understand what you are talking about. Remember, they come from other functions and have different expertise. The marketing guys will not necessarily understand basic science, but the same is true of the scientist who does grasp the complexities of the regulations. How you explain your function to your colleagues within your department who know the subject matter is quite different from how you present your work to the marketing team or the regulatory team. Just as you will want them to adjust the way they explain things to you so that you can understand (no jargon, more lay language), so should you be aware of how you are able to present your work to others in your team so that you all communicate clearly and speak the same language.
In a matrix organization, you need all the pieces of a puzzle to make the picture complete. Those pieces will fit with each other only if respect, openness, clear communication, and receptiveness is the norm.