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Human Research Program

Developing, Maintaining, and Restoring Team Cohesion

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Team cohesion, as an important team process factor, has been researched in the psychological literature for well over 50 years. Several meta-analytic investigations have firmly established its contribution to team effectiveness (Beal, Cohen, Burke, & McLendon, 2003; Gully, Devine, & Whitney, 1995; Mullen & Copper, 1994), particularly for teams performing complex, interdependent tasks. Team cohesion is primarily viewed as a motivational team process that captures the interpersonal attraction of team members to each other (social cohesion) and the commitment of members to the team mission (task cohesion). Although task cohesion is more strongly related to team performance, both factors are important because problems with social cohesion can “spill over” to undermine task cohesion, other relevant team processes, and team performance (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). Thus, the capability to intervene to enhance the development, maintenance, and restoration of team cohesion for flight crews and ground control teams is essential to the overall mission effectiveness for the NASA strategic plan for space exploration (NASA, 2008).

Team cohesion, good collaboration, and psychosocial health are essential ingredients for effective “high reliability” action teams that perform critical tasks in isolated, confined, and extreme (ICE) environments, such as teams of astronauts. Although a substantial amount of research has established a relationship between team cohesion and team effectiveness, very little research examines how teams collaborate and maintain cohesion, effective teamwork, and psychosocial health over time. That is, the vast majority of the research is based on static, cross-sectional data. There is simply very little research examining team cohesion and team functioning over short, medium, and long duration missions. Thus, basic research to examine team interaction dynamics is needed to develop effective and obtrusive assessment methods, monitoring technologies, and team regulation tools and techniques to enable crew members and mission controllers to maintain, sustain, and adapt team collaboration to achieve team effectiveness. That is the focus of this research effort.

This ground-based research focused on three primary areas of activity:

1. We worked to gain access to NASA analog environments with the goal of benchmarking team cohesion variability and fluctuations for teams operating under ICE conditions.

• Establishing normative benchmarks for team interaction and function is critical to (later) being able to detect anomalies that necessitate countermeasures.

2. We developed and prototyped a technology platform (i.e., a wireless sensor system) to provide an unobtrusive measurement system for monitoring team interactions and assessing psychosocial health.

• Real time cohesion and collaboration assessment will be critical to monitoring team effectiveness and triggering countermeasures.

3. We prototyped the use of behavioral metrics to assess team cohesion, which is a critical first step for establishing the utility of the monitoring technology, and initiated a phased validation process to demonstrate the potential of the monitoring technology and measurement system.

• It is essential that the technology system provides reliable, valid, and useful metrics for assessing the nature and quality of team interactions.

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