Ganging Up on Cancer: Integrative Research Centers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (A)

Posted: 9 Mar 2012

See all articles by Heidi K. Gardner

Heidi K. Gardner

Harvard Law School

Edo Bedzra

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Shereef Elnahal

Harvard University - Harvard Medical School

Date Written: January 13, 2012


Dr. Barrett Rollins, Chief Scientific Officer of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, attempts to engender cross-scientist collaboration by applying project management principles to medical research. The resulting innovation, Integrative Research Centers, are novel in this field and present a substantial challenge to the Institute's culture, which had previously allowed faculty scientists complete autonomy over their research. Center leaders are required to develop a business plan, adhere to agreed-upon performance metrics, and undergo regular progress reviews conducted by a peer-led oversight committee. The Center for Nanotechnology in Cancer, a new but crucial center in the program, has failed to meet almost all of its objectives in the first year. Furthermore, a heated dispute between two faculty members in the center has complicated matters significantly. Rollins is flummoxed by these problems because he thought he had provided resources and clear objectives to all of the centers. He must urgently diagnose the main reason(s) for the center's shortcomings and develop a plan of action so that this center's problems do not undermine the whole initiative toward greater scientific collaboration.

Learning Objective: To examine the challenges of transitioning knowledge workers from highly individualistic work toward collaboration. More generally, to highlight the need for addressing employees' personal motivations within any organizational change effort. These issues are particularly germane to professional service firms, where personnel are highly motivated by a sense of personal achievement and professional autonomy, and where leaders' ability to dictate change is constrained by institutional elements like strong cultures and traditional career paths. Neither providing resources and incentives, nor relying strictly on performance management is adequate for promoting collaboration in this environment; leaders need to take a systemic approach to change by focusing on both the content and process of change. The case also elements of negotiation and conflict mediation.

Suggested Citation

Gardner, Heidi K. and Bedzra, Edo and Elnahal, Shereef, Ganging Up on Cancer: Integrative Research Centers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (A) (January 13, 2012). Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Unit Case No. 412-029, Available at SSRN:

Heidi K. Gardner (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Edo Bedzra

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Shereef Elnahal

Harvard University - Harvard Medical School ( email )

25 Shattuck St
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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