The Others


Scientists…are they team players or lone wolves? For some reason it’s thought that scientific work is a solo performance, it’s you against the world kind of situation. The Finnish culture doesn’t really ease the situation, Finns aren’t very talkative and information in given on a “need-to-know” basis to others. But you are not alone, in fact, did you know that you do have co-workers? That you are not alone? That there are people in the same situation as you?

Who are these people, and what are they working on?

Have you seen them? Those strange people that are some how affiliated to you at work place. They work near you, walk in the same hallways, use the same lavatories as you, eat in the same cafeteria as you. And last time you checked….they even work in the same team as you! One of them even tried to greet you while passing by in the hallway!

Yeah, they are called co-workers. Why are they called co-workers and why are you guys in the same team….because your work is supposed to go together. You are a Team.

Yes, Team, I like that, but I don’t know anything about their work!

This is quite common in research institutes, probably in all professional service industries as well. Individuals are experts and experts have a weird tendency to get isolated and work alone like hermits. But we are not hermits, we are social animals!

Best results happen when experts come together, and expertise’s get mixed up. And you get know you co-workers as well (it’s polite to greet back you know…)

To make this happen, we have introduced “Substance Quarter”  in our team. Every Friday at 08.30 AM (I know, brutal time, isn’t it 🙂 ) someone from the team will give a 5 minute introduction on some topic he/she is working on currently, or finds interesting. This way we get to know what interests scientists in the team and what are their viewpoints and methods. Remaining 10 minutes are reserved for discussion, questions, drinking coffee, being amazed from the presentation, eating pastries (remember, we work on “pulla, see post by Kaarina).

And this activity is, again, completely voluntarily.


Yes, again. Giving presentations about you work is excellent practice and makes you really think about what you are doing. Especially because you need to be able to mainstream your work for people who are not experts in your particular field.

So if you feel like Sting, like a legal alien (Englishman in New York) in your team, start the substance quarters today!

Lunch and other business

Inside our team we are trying our best to communicate a lot. Not only about the official stuff but also anything that comes to one’s mind. That is why we have various communication channels, more or less formal or informal.

As already discussed earlier, we arrange substance quarters every week. That is face-to-face communication and there the actual substance matters. A less formal face-to-face meeting is our Monday morning coffee break. We also have team’s newsletter as well as a common mailing list, which are mainly used for delivering information to others, rather one-sidedly, not so much for vivid discussion. And then we have team’s skype channel.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words
but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
– Quote by A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Lunch is something we talk a lot in the skype channel! Who ever is the first feeling hungry, asks others if anybody else would be going to eat quite soon. And if we have planned to have a team lunch outside, in the town (which we tend to do about once every month), we end up planning the place to go via skype messages.

Just for a reference, I counted our skype messages for this year. There were 1646 messages by the time I started writing this posting. That divided by 70, which is the amount of working days this year so far, adds up an average of 24 messages per day. Not bad! Of course there are days when everyone is curled up in their own research so that no communication is done, but then again there are days such as last Friday, when we ended up sending 286 lines of discussion via skype to each other. And this does not count the one-to-one or some-to-some skype conversations which sometimes happen overlapping the messaging between the whole team. But hey, at least we are getting to know each others more and more all the time!

I just hope there is some actual communication happening here also,
and not just an illusion of it!

The carrot vs. stick approach

Our team, as most humans, prefer the carrot approach. It does by no means mean that we have carrots in front of our nose all the time, no. Our team works with the power of “pulla”, i.e. sweet buns, pies and cakes.

One thing that we have noticed in common with all the members of our team is that we all have a sweet tooth. We have created a rule that whenever one is succeeded in some goal, e.g. publishing an article in a journal, that person has to bring a cream cake for the whole team to enjoy. But we also have a tendency to make the team happy with randomly treating us with some sweet bakery products. Usually those are store bought but we do have a couple of talented bakers within the team also. For example, this week one of us brought blueberry pie for our Monday morning team coffee and another team member brought sweet buns for Friday morning’s substance quarter meeting.


Our “pulla” approach however might change within the forthcoming years, when we realise that we all have expanded a lot not only mentally but also physically. One day we may even have to start actually enjoying carrots in our team meetings…