From The Editor | July 23, 2018

There's An "I" In Biopharma Teams – But It's Not For "Identities"

Louis Garguilo

By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

There’s An “I” In Biopharma Teams – But It’s Not For “Identities”

Today’s growing trend of "identity splintering" is bad for biopharma teams.

And since no organizational activity is more important to the overall success of drug development and manufacturing outsourcing than the formation of competent teams — at the drug owners and CDMOs — we should be particularly concerned.

What exactly is “identity splintering”? We will answer that directly in a moment. But before we do, let’s review our baseline thinking regarding the individuals that make up our teams, and offer an alternative view to that (mis)perception.

The “I’s” Have It

We hear it all the time: There’s no “I” in team.

But if that is correct, there can be no “You,” either. Even sillier, is there no separate “We” as well, for example when one team interacts with another?

Following this folly, our teams can’t help but ending up as unnecessarily amorphous organizations, surely much less confident or ultimately productive. 

Luckily, not everyone consents to this overused adage of “No ‘I’ in team.”

Here’s why there isn’t universal acceptance for this insistence on a lack of ego, or a constricting “self-awareness” – for individuals or as applied overall to a team:

  • If “I” don’t steadfastly represent myself in a team configuration, I’m most likely not as committed as I should be, or have less to add than I should. 
  • If “You” don’t put yourself fully in play and at times on the line, you’ll never be fully invested in the process or implementation of outcomes. (You will, though, go along with weaker ideas or less-baked decisions.)
  • If “We” don’t have the attitude that it is up to us – take a position of responsibility as a clearly divisible unit – then we won’t be a coherent force as a team, particularly when we need to interact with other teams.

Now, there is another individual behavior we need to rethink to ensure our teams are productive and the best they can be. But there is a catch.

Identity Splintering

As per the above, we are suggesting teams in fact benefit from a more assertive sense of individualism, not the baseline thinking otherwise.

However, today it appears we’ve taken the individual in the wrong direction, and traveled a bridge too far. It’s driven by a sociopolitical agitation for a kind of hyper-identity, which might be better described as “identity splintering.”

This is defined as the conscious separating – or “splintering” – of one’s individual identity into various constituencies, for reasons emanating from outside that individual.

An example from a recent story in our biopharma media: “I’m proud to be a multicultural millennial female.”

Perhaps most concerning is that what often accompanies this self-labeling is the feeling one is representing those separate “splinters” in order to right (often real at times imagined) slights or injustices that any of them may have received.

This type of self-splintering – streaming through our politics, social media, university campuses and general discourse – is now spilling into our biopharma industry.

The infiltration is documented in so many headlines, using the example above, such as: “Working In Biopharma Manufacturing As A Multicultural Millennial Female.”

These types of articles include important – and often inspiring – messages. They tell stories of people breaking into bastions within our workplace – e.g., biopharma manufacturing – and in fact creating new opportunities for a greater number of people. I’m sure you’ve read and appreciated many of them. I have, too.

But again, have we gone too far with this? Ironically, individuals touting their splintered identities are also prone to  pronouncements such as: “We millennials are fearless.”

Really. Every workplace team that now includes an individual from this certain age group will be confronted with a fearless persona as a member? Isn’t this exactly the type of stigmatizing we are trying to get away from?  

Moreover, what preconceived notion should we then attach to the other two-thirds we are told make up this one individual: “female” and “multicultural”? Do we need to trait-identify those two constituencies as well?

No doubt we need to open up opportunities to more people. But is identity splintering the path? Can these increasingly self-fractionated individuals positively integrate – both in self and as contributing individuals of the teams they join in the workplace? What impact does all this “representation” of divergent constituencies wrapped up in an individual have on a team?

And what if all the members of a team were in identity-splintering mode? Could there ever be a concerted focus on the team’s work at hand?

Outsourcing Is A Team Sport

To repeat, our subsection of the biopharma industry is organized around and relies on the efficient functioning of diverse teams (i.e., process development; analytical; project management; supply chain operations; executive management), and on those teams effectively interacting with other teams. 

Our outsourcing-related teams are already formed within different business cultures – Big Pharma to virtual start-ups; those drug owners and various CDMOs – and located in different geographies and countries.

Biopharma executives at drug sponsors have told us time and again: They look to establish cohesive teams, and devoted team players and leaders to people them. These teams need to operate independently and with other independent teams, to present options, and advocate for certain pathways and decisions.

But a team cannot function optimally if its individuals self-divide into constituencies, each seemingly with some outside meaning, motive, and influence bearing down on the others in the group.

Better to be one with yourself. A unique but unified “I” on our biopharma teams.