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Human Spaceflight Capabilities

Measuring, Monitoring, and Regulating Teamwork for Long Duration Missions

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Measuring, Monitoring, and Regulating Teamwork for Long Duration Missions
Teamwork processes –cognitive, motivational, affective, and behavioral – have been researched in the psychological sciences for well over a half century. Several lines of systematic research, large scale literature reviews, and meta-analytic summaries have firmly established that team processes, as key indicators of psycho-social team health, are critical contributors to team effectiveness, especially for “action” teams performing complex, interdependent tasks (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). Disruptions to teamwork, due to conflict, low cohesion, or poor collaboration, have the potential to threaten team effectiveness. This is particularly the case under the isolated, confined, and extreme (ICE) conditions that can be anticipated for long duration space missions. These difficult operating environments are further challenged by high team autonomy and time lagged communications with ground. For high reliability teams, a disruption in good teamwork, especially at an inopportune time when well-coordinated teamwork is critical, can have disastrous consequences (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kozlowski, Miller, Mathieu, & Vessey, 2015; Slack, Williams, Schneiderman, Whitmire, & Picano, 2016). Thus, the capability for NASA to measure, monitor, and facilitate good teamwork interactions for flight crews is essential for overall mission effectiveness for the NASA strategic plan for space exploration. Developing this capability has been the goal of this research program.

This ground-based research was designed to address the following Program Requirements Document (PRD) Risk and Behavioral Health and Performance (BHP) Integrated Research Plan (IRP; 2011).

PRD Risk: Risk of Performance Decrements Due to Inadequate Cooperation, Coordination, Communication, and Psychosocial Adaptation within a Team.

IRP (Integrated Research Plan) Gap – Team1: We need to understand the key threats, indicators, and life cycle of the team for autonomous, long duration and/or distance exploration missions.

The research targeted three specific aims that comprised an integrated approach for measuring, monitoring, and regulating teamwork processes and long-term team functioning:

(1) Benchmark long duration team functioning in ICE analog environments. This research used Experience Sampling Methods (ESM; daily assessments) to assess team functioning across a range of ICE environments (short and long duration; Antarctica and NASA mission simulations). The purpose of this research aim was to characterize patterns of variation and dynamics for key teamwork processes (e.g., cohesion, collaboration, conflict). Benchmark data in ICE analog environments are important for developing insights into the nature of problems that may emerge that challenge team member interactions and team functioning. Findings from the benchmark studies are informative of the types of challenges that may be faced by space crews on long duration missions.

(2) Extend development of the team interaction sensor (TIS) technology (i.e., a wearable wireless sensor package). The purpose of this research aim was to advance development of a sensor technology to capture dynamic multimodal (i.e., physiological and behavioral) data that unobtrusively assesses team member interactions. Initial laboratory validation demonstrated the reliability and accuracy of the monitoring technology (Kozlowski, Biswas, & Chang, 2013) and its ability to predict affective reactions to stressed interactions (Kozlowski, Biswas, & Chang, 2014) sufficient to establish proof of concept. The extensions (a) added an additional sensing capability (i.e., swallow monitoring); (b) technology development to make the system more robust (i.e., packaging, energy efficiency; hardware, Bluetooth integration, algorithms, and software); and technology transfer to the NASA Wearable Electronics Application and Research Lab (WEAR Lab) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC).

(3) Develop a teamwork interaction metric and support system. The TIS provides high frequency data on team interaction indicators. The purpose of this research aim was to develop supporting components required for the data to be utilized as a countermeasure for team members to regulate psycho-social health: (a) Metrics – algorithms were developed to filter and parse the raw data streams into a meaningful measure that reflects teamwork functioning. The metric was then validated against prior laboratory data and in NASA mission simulation. (b) Distributed Networked Dashboard – a prototype system architecture / design was developed to distribute sensor information to computers and mobile devices, and (c) design concepts for a team effectiveness dashboard were developed for displaying teamwork interaction metrics and feedback to team members. The ultimate implementation and utilization of the system, however, will necessitate the direct involvement of NASA Operations personnel and astronaut end-users.

Products and findings from this research have the capability of reducing the risk of team performance decrements due to poor teamwork interactions by (a) characterizing normative and anomalous patterns of team functioning; (b) developing a technology to unobtrusively monitor team member interaction patterns; and (c) providing support to maintain teamwork.


Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Ilgen, D. R. (2006). Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams (Monograph). Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7, 77-124.

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kozlowski, S. W. J., Miller, C., Mathieu, J. E., & Vessey, W. B. (2015). Teams in space exploration: A new frontier for the science of team effectiveness. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(3), 200-207.

Slack, K. J., Williams, T. J., Schneiderman, J. S., Whitmore, A. M., & Picano, J. J. (2016). Evidence report: Risk of adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions and psychiatric disorders. Human Research Program, Behavioral Health and Performance. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Johnson Space Center. Houston, TX

Kozlowski, S. W. J., Biswas, S., & Chang, C.-H. (2013). Developing, maintaining, and restoring team cohesion. Final Report, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NNX09AK47G). Houston, TX

Kozlowski, S. W. J., Biswas, S., & Chang, C.-H. (2014, February). Capturing and regulating the dynamics of team collaboration and cohesion. Presented at the NASA Human Research Program Investigators' Workshop, Galveston, TX

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