Lead a lab design team

“How we are is what it becomes.” Invented by Barry Svigals, Founder and Partner Emeritus of Svigals + Partners, this mantra expresses the belief that architecture should be uniquely linked to the purpose, place and people for which it is created. This applies as much to laboratory design as it does to any type of environment.

But how does this relate to leading a lab design team? Think of the phrase: “What we are is what it becomes.” The best way to lead a design team to create spaces that nurture creativity and innovative discovery is to nurture creativity and innovative discovery. Create a culture of support, encourage collaboration and inspire creativity, and the rest will fall into place.

Leading collaborative teams

Whether a lab is focused on vital medical research, technological advancements, or other areas of research, space design is critical to its efficient operation. It starts with getting to know the customer and the users, and involving them in the process from the start.

Once you understand the unique needs of the organization, building the best team of experts is crucial. It helps to have specialist consultants that you know and enjoy working with. Team leaders need to understand their strengths, how to maximize them, and form a holistic team that complements each other. The most effective collaborative partnerships have a shared rhythm and language that improves communication and efficiency.

Once the lab design team is assembled, it is essential to establish a foundation of trust within the team. This is best achieved through collaboration, bringing everyone into the conversation early on. Once everyone is together, everything is exposed. This approach allows creative solutions to surface throughout the process and allows clients to participate in finding solutions. Trust becomes a natural consequence of the collaborative process since everyone is seated on the same side of the table.

Recognize and recruit talent

Some companies may say they are looking to hire “the best and the brightest”, but “fit” is more important. The best people will embrace your company culture and bring in the talent you need.

You can also consider hiring people for entry-level positions and working with them to grow with the company. Hire skilled and dedicated people, train them with patience, create a collaborative environment, and help each person determine what they do best and how they want to contribute. This approach will yield the best results for both your business and your customers.

For your lab design team in particular, a technical background and a keen interest in science and technology both come in handy. Successful lab architects have a meticulous eye for detail, as well as an ability to manage your client’s brand.

Troubleshoot Complications

Notably, effective project managers for designing research environments have an understanding of the technical and engineering components involved, including standards and codes specific to laboratory design and construction. But more importantly, they seek the expertise of competent consultants when problems arise. Egos must be checked at the door.

Consider a project where zoological research is being conducted and the team identifies excessive vibration levels in the building that may adversely affect the breeding habits of the animals involved. The problem may be related to the structure of the building, or to the MEP or HVAC systems. The leader’s job is to consult with all affected team members in a coordinated effort to identify the problem and design a range of solutions. Building good relationships with team members early in the process will underpin problem-solving efforts like these. Showing them that they are respected and valued can inspire a greater willingness to go the extra mile when needed, which in turn leads to better results.

Every project has its challenges. Construction issues arise, conditions on the ground change, mid-term drawings and plan adaptations occur, and conflicting viewpoints emerge. Each team member is responsible for individual contributions to the resulting lab design, but team leaders are responsible for everyone’s contributions, including their own. The following guidelines help ensure productive collaboration towards viable solutions and forward momentum:

  • Be realistic with expectations and deliverables.
  • Mitigate crises by listening to the details surrounding the situation, acknowledging them and offering a solution. Finger pointing does not solve problems. Acknowledging the challenge for what it is and working with all functions to find a workable solution should always be the focus.
  • Hire outside help as needed to get the job done right. Recognize that it’s best to seek help as soon as possible to avoid potential larger issues of unforeseen delays and cost overruns.
  • Delegating tasks appropriately yields high results. Keep a finger on the pulse of team interactions, personalities, and work habits to stay ahead of potential issues. Some people, for example, are very organized. Some prefer email and text communications to phone calls. By understanding people’s strengths, weaknesses and work styles, design leaders can predict where to fill the gaps and can optimize their team’s talent for better overall results.

Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment

Diversity is essential in all fields, especially those focused on complex issues. Indeed, despite the mythology of the singularly brilliant scientist (think Einstein), innovation is rarely driven by a solitary person. On average, people from different backgrounds tend to approach problem solving differently, and it’s this diversity of perspectives that often leads to breakthroughs.

While the field of architecture has diversified over the past 30 years, there is still work to be done. Companies will benefit from establishing an internal diversity, equity and inclusion committee to review office policies and hiring practices, as well as ways to support equity in the career pipeline. Look for ways to increase your reach to attract a wider range of talent and support local low-income high school work-study programs, bringing in students to expose them to the IT industry. architecture, engineering and construction. You may also consider contributing to the growth of a state organization, for example, your local chapter of NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects). These aren’t specific lab design initiatives, but improving the diversity of your team is critical to long-term growth and competitiveness across all of your industries.

Not everyone fits in the same box, and that’s a good thing. Each person brings a set of skills, personality, and background that adds to the effectiveness of a team and creates balance within it. Lab design teams need each person’s unique talents whether they are technical, managerial, or creative to balance a group’s contributions and contribute to a lab’s success.

Abdul J. Gaspar