Dr. Maike Schmitt
Dr. Maike Schmitt
Senior Researcher & Team Lead – Health Economics

Open dialogue, embracing feedback and mutual learning: Dr. Maike Schmitt on leadership at WifOR

Having joined WifOR as research associate in 2016, Dr. Maike Schmitt has since grown into the role of a Senior Researcher. She also now leads her own team in WifOR’s Health Economics department.

In this interview, Maike shares how she navigates leadership, what she strives to achieve with her research and where her motivation comes from. She also gives insights into the challenges and opportunities presented by organizational growth.

Maike, you lead a team of six colleagues alongside holding the position of Senior Researcher. What does a typical week look like for you?

Coordinating projects and conducting research remains at the heart of my work. But I also have a leadership role – which involves diverse responsibilities, ranging from managing the department’s overall resource allocation to supporting the development of colleagues on a one-to-one basis.

Another dimension of being a senior team member is working closely with WifOR’s Head of Health Economics. For example, we collaboratively initiate internal workshops and regular method discussions as well as communicate with potential clients.

The distribution of these tasks varies depending on the situation. Currently, we are carrying out people development meetings – which require consideration and diligent preparation. After this cycle, I will focus more greatly on our ongoing research projects.

What do these people development meetings involve?

At the beginning of the year, we collectively evaluate the progress made over the previous 12 months and set goals for the upcoming year. I then meet with each colleague in my team individually. The main objective is to ensure that each team member is truly heard. We reflect on the previous year, the individual contribution and development paths. Based on this, we set personnel goals for the upcoming year and explore how I as the team lead can provide valuable support.

You have a background formerly in research. How have you developed the skillset required to lead a team?

It didn’t happen overnight, it’s a process which is still ongoing. Training from external coaches provided me the toolbox with which I’m able to navigate a wide variety of scenarios. For example, for a leader it is important to develop routine mechanisms for colleagues to express individuality and act upon their intuition. Over time and through experience, I have learned to effectively use these tools while still discovered new skills.

I also learn a lot from those around me. Team Leads at WifOR serve as co-supervisors for one another. We meet regularly for peer-to-peer teaching, bringing our own topics. This exchange is so valuable – especially for me to see how other research areas work and their different approaches to leadership. While the Team Leads share a common basis, we each have our own methods which reflect the individual personalities in our teams.

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is navigating conflict. What is your approach?

First and foremostly, to listen. As a Team Lead, I try to remain impartial and consider opinions objectively. This allows me to act as a mediator and encourages team members to independently devise solutions.

As a leader, I also work to create an environment in which everyone has the freedom to express themselves. WifOR’s approach is to encourage open dialogue and embrace feedback, whether this is within wider team meetings or individual one-on-one discussions.

To what extent has the growth of WifOR as an organization influenced this approach?

When we celebrated our 15th Anniversary earlier this year with over 250 guests, it dawned on me how much WifOR has developed. Not just in terms of team members, but also our structures. We have more than quadrupled in size since I joined WifOR – and this means, of course, we have to adapt.

For me personally, it is important to remain constantly open to change, to ensure dynamic processes are in place which enable existing structures to evolve. This approach forms the foundation for open dialogue, constructive feedback, and conflict resolution. I am entirely convinced that we will need new structures in the future as WifOR continues to grow. Change is positive and integral for development and innovation.

We have focused so far on leadership. What would you like to achieve with your research?

Being a health economist, I want to contribute towards a healthier society. More specifically, I’m seeking to promote a conversation about shifting our healthcare systems away from curative models and towards prevention. Our Health Economics research equips decision-makers and stakeholders with scientific evidence to ensure effective decision-making and higher quality healthcare.

Another dimension I cherish is the exchange between academia and let’s say the ‘real world’ – meaning the embodiment of research findings in society as well as everyday lives.

And what are you looking forward to in the future?

From a research perspective, I would say continuing to drive innovative projects addressing prevention and to bring them into academic and political discussion. I’m currently involved in a project focused on prevention and the provision of healthcare for cancer patients. I would also like to work more on the topic of nutrition and disease prevention and to interconnect our research with aspects of environmental economics.

As a Team Lead, I’m highly motivated by seeing my colleagues grow and supporting their continued development. WifOR’s hybrid work model allows me to live in Darmstadt and enjoy the surrounding nature while at the same time stay connected to colleagues in different locations.

Given that we are an international team spread out across WifOR’s offices, regular, in-person contact is even more valuable. Twice a year we come together as a whole department. My own team I see more frequently. For instance, I recently visited our colleagues in Athens and will be joining them again in September. It is always a pleasure with them, and I have really fallen in love with the city.

Have a lovely trip, Maike. Thank you for speaking with us!

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