How Army teams can work together more effectively is focus of cooperative agreement

Waging war is uniquely challenging and stressful, nothing less than a life-and-death struggle that depends on teams working together. Now a group of researchers led by a Rice University psychologist has been awarded a cooperative agreement to study military teamwork in collaboration with the Foundational Science Research Unit of the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. This multiyear agreement will lay the foundation for future research on how groups can work together more effectively to achieve military goals.

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Eduardo Salas, department chair and professor of psychological sciences at Rice University, will lead the project, which will also involve researchers from other academic institutions and applied research firms, including the University of Akron (Amanda Thayer), University of Georgia (Dorothy Carter), Arizona State University (Margaret Luciano), Clemson University (Marissa Shuffler), Aptima (Krista Ratwani), the Group for Organizational Effectiveness (Scott Tannenbaum) and the U.S. Army Research Institute.

Salas said the Army’s operational environment is becoming increasingly complex, and teams — whether they’re single teams, teams of teams or networks of teams — must adapt to unusual, high-stress environments. Their work is fraught with uncertainty, complex terrain, difficult missions and joint-service and multinational operations. The question, he said, is: What unique challenges do these situations present to teamwork, and how can Army units successfully prepare for combat in these inconsistent conditions?

Eduardo Salas“To address these challenges, we need some team science aimed at helping Army leaders better understand how to optimally select, compose, train and build effective teams,” Salas said. “We need to uncover the principles that create an effective team over time, facing a range of problems and under varying conditions.”

Salas and his fellow researchers will develop original approaches to collecting data on team dynamics — including a highly reliable and adaptable core experimental paradigm as well as an innovative measurement and statistical toolkit — as a means for investigating how teams operate. Then they will assess the information they collect (regarding behavior, communications and more) to better understand teamwork.

“The ability of military teams to effectively work together is, quite literally, a matter of life or death,” Salas said.

Salas said the research will also lay the foundation for the future of research on team selection, staffing and composition decisions within the Army. Ultimately, he and his fellow researchers hope this cooperative agreement funding will result in stronger and more resilient military teams that can more easily adapt and respond to the situations they face in real time.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.