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Merrimack Pharmaceuticals: Recognizing Patterns of Collaboration

Merrimack Pharmaceuticals logo
CLIENT:Merrimack Pharmaceuticals
LOCATION:Cambridge, MA
SIZE:350 employees

Client Profile & Challenge

Founded in 2000 with the mission of curing cancer, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals is a publicly-traded biopharmaceutical company known for innovative diagnostics and treatments. The company’s 350 employees have produced multiple cancer therapies now in clinical trials or in late-stage preclinical development.

Merrimack Pharmaceuticals is transforming oncology research. Rather than adopt traditional time-consuming and costly trial-and-error methods, Merrimack embraced computational modeling and quantitative biology to guide the design and development of new cancer-fighting drugs.

Though Merrimack had achieved considerable success with the collaborative approach used within the organization, the working model had encountered challenges as the company grew. As Merrimack’s first drug approached commercial stage, another potential threat to collaboration loomed on the horizon.

The company had already doubled in size — expanding its physical footprint across multiple floors of the company’s Massachusetts office, making interpersonal connection more difficult and relationships more diluted. Becoming a commercial organization would mean even more rapid growth.

Merrimack’s leaders felt it was an important time to understand the current state of their organization and whether they were living its collaborative vision.

Solution & Results

With our help, Merrimack embarked on a project to better understand connectivity and leadership within the organization. They wanted to determine what steps might be needed to build and sustain robust collaborative networks that support innovation.

As a first step, our researchers explored how work happens at Merrimack and which networks among people and teams are most critical to success. They measured the density of connections within and across three important boundaries:

  1. Vertical boundaries among management levels,
  2. Horizontal boundaries among work pods and other professional groups, and
  3. Geographic boundaries within and across workspaces.

Over an 18-month timeframe, several surveys were conducted, involving about 45 co-located scientists and engineers. In addition, our researchers interviewed more than half of the individuals in the discovery division to collect contextual information and to get a better grasp on how work was getting accomplished.

The results helped Merrimack fill in “the whitespace” on their organizational chart. By measuring and understanding their actual patterns of collaboration they took informed action to support and extend the company’s collaborative vision.

We designed 3 interactive workshops that were delivered over a 14-month timeframe.

The sessions were grounded in our boundary-spanning leadership model, which is designed to create direction, alignment, and commitment to the service of a higher vision or goal.

Workshop participants walked away with an understanding of the company’s current network connections and how to work strategically across barriers to support innovation.

The network analysis and actions Merrimack has taken are making a clear and tangible impact. The data collected show a significant increase in interactions among individuals. In addition, scientists cite improvements in collaboration that they attribute to the workshops they attended.

Scientists now have a clear understanding of their own role as leaders in company networks — outside of traditional leadership hierarchies. This new concept of leadership has opened nontraditional opportunities for career development.

Our analysis suggests that the increase in collaborative connections in this context is linked to higher job performance ratings.

Participants Say

“It helped me a lot, this open floor structure. I can hear and overhear projects or discussions, and I don’t hesitate to jump in if I hear something interesting.”

“I think there are a lot of positive changes. People [have] started thinking more about communications. I think teams are more integrated . . . It was more like silos between teams, and right now teams are talking to each other.”

“When you have a question, when you’re stuck on something, that’s where the network really comes in. It’s not the person that you talk to every single day, because odds are you have fairly similar interests, but it’s the other people you can go to when you’re stuck that can really help.”

Partner With Us

With 50 years of research and real-world experience involving thousands of pharmaceutical industry leaders around the globe, we are uniquely positioned to design and deliver leadership development initiatives for companies in the pharmaceutical sector. Our Healthcare Leadership Development Solutions accelerate business results by targeting specific areas that can serve as levers for change in your organization.


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