Team Manuals#

Team manuals describe expectations for team members, highlight resources and provides documentation on processes. Below follow some questions that you can consider when you set up a Team Manual.

Benefits of Team Manuals#

  • Clarity about expectations

  • Everyone has access to the same information

  • Everyone can contribute to the team manual and updating will take less time

  • Discussions around ways of working are normalised

  • Group members will think more actively about how to do research

  • Answers to frequently asked questions will be available (knowledge management)

  • Can contribute to a safer lab environment (technically and socially)

  • You can hold people more easily accountable

What to include in a Team Manual?#

Main points#

  1. Mission/vision statement: What are the research goals of the team, why are these the goals? How does the team work? What is the history of the group? How does the team fit into the department/institute? What are the principles? How do we do science in a way that fits with our mission/vision statement?

  2. Roles and expectations: What are the responsibilities of each team member, including the PI? When will these roles be discussed when a new member joins the team?

More details#

  • Meta-processes: How is the lab manual updated? Who can propose the changes (ideally every member) and what is the process? Do you keep multiple versions of the lab manual? Where will the lab manual be made available for all lab members to access?

  • Open Science: How does the team manage and share code, data, materials? How is documentation done?

  • Research process: how is research conducted at the lab? How is the data analysed? How is the code written, version controlled? See for example the Research toolkit by the Open Data Institute. Is work of lab members reproduced by other lab members (for example, to learn new techniques and to validate previous work)?

  • Communication: How do people engage with each other? For suggestion on how to organise communication, see Organising Remote Meetings.

  • Under what condition can people provide their best work? What support is needed? How do people work? Can they work remotely? What are people’s preferred working hours? What to arrange when you go on a holiday? Are there any weekly/daily tasks?

  • Inclusivity: How are hiring practices inclusive of minoritised groups?

  • Resources: What do lab members need access to (servers, software, tools, room keys, library cards, and the like)?

  • On/off boarding: A list of what new members need to do when they start out, and a list what leaving members need to do before they go.

  • Behaviour: Consider setting up a code of conduct or policy on scientific integrity (and align with the institutional/national policies on this). What should people do when they encounter harassment/discrimination? What is the lab culture?

  • Credit: How to provide appropriate credit to the right people? How to ensure that each contribution is recognised and rewarded? This includes (lab) maintenance work, discussions, and ideas.

  • Metrics: When is a lab member successful? How do you discuss and measure this progress so that the lab member can more easily succeed? How are successes celebrated? How are reproducible, ethical and inclusive data science practices included in this assessment? How is maintenance work evaluated and celebrated?

  • Culture: How are mistakes handled (see [RHS19])? How is insecurity being normalised? How is feedback given and acted upon?

  • Engagement: what are the expectations around public outreach? What is the social media policy for personal accounts? How are all the materials made accessible (image descriptions - see Alternative text, translations)? How is the lab involved in the department? How does the lab work with participants?

  • Publications: What needs to happen before a paper is published? what are the preprint policies? What are the journal preferences? How does the lab deal with authorship (Academic Authorship)? see [LAW+17] and [Cha18] for author order discussions.

  • Conferences: How do you give a talk? Which conference should be attended and why? How are visualisations made accessible? How is work in progress presented? What is the conference budget (this should be separate from the training budget)?

  • Finances: What grants pay for the lab? What will/won’t the lab pay for? What grants can people apply for? What to expect in terms of reimbursements?

  • Grants: How to deal with awarded grants? Should they be public to the whole lab or should only summaries and outcomes be available? Who can apply to grants?

  • Mentorship and development: How do you get feedback from others? How do you collaborate in/outside of the lab? What are the opportunities for development and mentoring. How do you discuss career development? See Mentoring and Advising Contract Points of Agreement or a career template plan as an example. How can you get mentoring outside of the lab?

  • Training: How are training opportunities formalised? What is the minimum amount of personal development days per year? What is the budget available?

  • Support: Where to go for help? This can be support in/outside the lab.

  • Scientific resources: Is there a reading list that lab members should read?

  • Accountability: How do all lab members hold each other accountable? What are procedures to follow? How to ensure that this accountability is not on individuals but the collective?

Institutional / national guidelines that affect Team Manuals#

Institutional and national policies and guidelines prevail over the Manual.

  • Ethics and Safety: What are the safety procedures? What are the ethic procedures? Is there a research integrity office?

  • Research Integrity and culture: Is there an institutional policy on this? If there is a dispute, what would be the procedure? Can you contact Human Resources about this?

  • What are the guidelines for research with animals, humans, personal data? See for example the Guide on Ethical Research.

  • Where is institutional support situated? (Human Resources, Integrity Office, Research Data Management, Education).

Collaboration and consortium guidelines that extend beyond the Team’s Manual#

  • How do we choose who to collaborate with?

  • How do we work together between teams? How do we ensure the manuals are not conflicting? Which Team Manual has precedence?

How to set up and start a Team Manual?#

Ideally the group leader or another senior member of the group will start setting up a Team Manual. They are in a better position to do so and have power over decision making. This does not mean only senior members can be involved: the whole group should be able to provide input and it is important to hold discussions over points where there is no agreement in the group.

If you want to convince your supervisor that having a Team Manual is important:

  • Check if a comparable lab is using a Lab Manual and show them this. You can also use the list provided (see below Examples of Team Manuals) as an example.

  • Team up with group members so that you’re not the only person that wants to implement it.

  • Start out with a simplified template or share a draft so that the supervisor can easily start.

There needs to be a balance between an extensive and detailed manual and an operable manual that can be implemented. Consider the points listed in this overview as ideas to mix and match from in no particular order, and use and adapt those that make most sense in your particular setting.

You can gather input on the Team Manual from group members via discussion sessions, or surveys. See this questionnaire for an example on how to engage lab members about their preferences.

How do you keep each other accountable?#

When a Team Manual is established it is important that everyone is on board. If someone is not following the Lab Manual it needs to be discussed why this is the case. It could be that the Lab Manual needs to be updated, or a discussion needs to take place to re-align the values of the group members, or perhaps this lab member is not a right fit for the group.

If someone breaks the agreements it needs to be clear what the consequences are. The Team/Lab needs to be held accountable, as otherwise there is no point of having a Lab Manual. See also Patrick Lencioni’s ‘Teamwork: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ ([Len12]):

  • Absence of trust

  • Fear of Conflict

  • Lack of commitment

  • Avoidance of accountability

  • Inattention to results

How to assess your lab culture?#

Examples of Team Manuals#

Examples of different types of Team/Lab Manuals#

Further examples#


This summary is based on an X (formerly Twitter) Thread by @samuelmehr (Webarchive), as well as discussions during the Open Science Retreat 2023.

Additional Resources on improving Research Culture#