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The Use of Paradox to Study, Understand, and Develop Scientific Teams

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Wooten K. The Use of Paradox to Study, Understand, and Develop Scientific Teams. Oral presentation at 2017 SciTS Conference. Clearwater Beach, FL. Jun 13, 2017. Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks for Understanding Team Science, Online at:

Over the last 25 years, paradox has been a successful framework to the study of all levels of organization phenomena (Cameron & Quinn, 1988; Smith & Lewis, 2001; Lewis, 2000; Schad, Lewis, Raish, & Smith, 2016), including teams. Paradox can be seen as “contradictory yet interrelated elements – elements that seem logical in isolation but absurd and irrational when appearing simultaneously” (Lewis, 2000, p. 760). The purpose of this paper is to apply the frameworks established to study paradox to scientific teams, specifically types of paradox and contextual factors. Because team science involves collaboration and integration across different individuals, disciplines, ideologies, and methodologies, the use of paradoxical analysis is appropriate. Methods and Findings: Based on the typology developed by Schad, Lewis, Raish, and Smith (2016), team science illustrations relating to common types of learning, organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes are shown in Table 1. Schad, Lewis, Raish, and Smith also have purported the environmental conditions of plurality vs. competition, change vs. innovation, and scarcity vs. resource abundance, and these can be seen in team science, along with the team science specific conditions such as degree of disciplinary integration (Rosenfield, 1992) and stage of transdisciplinary team progress (Hall, Voegel, Stipleman, & Stokols, 2011). Qualitative and mixed research methods to study paradox in scientific teams should be used to help develop a more extensive and explanatory base. Paradox theory can also be used as a diagnostic framework for team development to discover needed individual and team based change strategies (i.e., working through the paradox) that are positive in nature (Cameron, 2008). Table 1. Types of Paradox and Team Science Illustrations Type Team Science Illustrations Learning • Exploration vs. exploitation • Scientific discovery vs. commercialization • Stability vs. change • Methodological familiarity vs. adoption or development of new methods • Short-term vs. long-term • Incremental scientific progress vs. scientific breakthrough Organizing • Alignment vs. flexibility • Business model vs. scientific method • Control vs. autonomy/empowerment • Management science vs. science Belonging • Competing identities Researcher vs. mentor/ educator • Individual vs. collective • Team leader vs. team member/follower Performing • Cooperation vs. competition • Research agenda of network vs. principle aims of team • Multiple objectives and stakeholders • Scientific objectives vs. patient/community objectives Adapted from: Schad J, Lewis MW, Raish S, Smith WK. Paradox research in management science: Looking back to move forward. Acad Manag A. 2016; 1-60. Advancement of SciTS Field: The field of team science is currently without a common framework to explain or predict team based conflicts and tensions. Use of a contextually derived theory of paradox to illustrate how and when team science tensions are likely to occur is instrumental to both general theory as well as theory in practice.



Type of Publication:

Oral presentation


SciTS 2017 Conference, Presentation, Framework, Understanding team science, conceptual, theoretical

Addresses these goal(s):

  • Learn about the field of team science: history, theory and concepts
  • Establish or maintain effective team science endeavors
  • Conduct research on/evaluate team science

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Resource created by Jane Hwang on 10/3/2017 10:01:54 AM.

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