A bottom up perspective to understanding the dynamics of team roles in mission critical teams

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There is a long history, dating back to the 50 s, which examines the manner in which team roles contribute to effective team performance. However, much of this work has been built on ad hoc teams working together for short periods of time under conditions of minimal stress. Additionally, research has been conducted with little attention paid to the importance of temporal factors, despite repeated calls for the importance of considering time in team research (e.g., Mohammed et al., 2009). To begin to understand team roles and how temporal aspects may impact the types of team roles employed when teams are working in extreme mission critical environments, the current manuscript uses a data-driven, bottom-up approach. Specifically, we employ the use of retrospective historical data as our input and a historiometric approach (Simonton, 2003). Source documents consist primarily of autobiographies, memoires, biographies, and first-hand accounts of crew interaction during spaceflight. Critical incidents regarding team interaction were extracted from these source documents and independently coded for team roles by two trained raters. Results of the study speak to the importance of task and social roles within teams that are predominantly intact and operating in extreme environments where mistakes can be life threatening. Evidence for the following task (i.e., coordinator, boundary spanner, team leader, evaluator, critic, information provider, team player, and innovator) and social roles (i.e., team builder, nurturer, harmonizer, entertainer, jokester, and the negative roles of attention seeker and negativist) were found. While it is often task roles that receive the greatest attention, results point to the importance of not neglecting the socioemotional health of the team (and the corresponding roles). Results also indicated that while some roles were consistently enacted independent of temporal considerations (e.g., mission length), the degree to which others were enacted varied across missions of differing lengths. Additionally, based on the current sample we see the following trends: (1) increased enactment of the team builder role as mission duration increases, (2) prominence of the entertainer role, and (3) increased emphasis on the visionary/problem solver role on missions over 2 years.




Burke, C. S., Georganta, E., & Marlow, S. (2019). A bottom up perspective to understanding the dynamics of team roles in mission critical teams. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(JUN). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01322

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