How Army teams can work better together focus of multi-million dollar study led by Rice psychologist

HOUSTON – (Oct. 3, 2019) -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 academic researchers led by a Rice University psychologist has received a multi-million dollar grant to study military teamwork.

Eduardo Salas. Photo credit: Rice University

Eduardo Salas. Photo credit: Rice University

A $6 million grant from the Foundational Science Research Unit of the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences will fund a four-year study of how groups can work together more effectively to achieve military goals.

Eduardo Salas, department chair and professor of psychological sciences at Rice University, will lead the project, which will also involve researchers from the University of Akron, University of Georgia, Arizona State University, Clemson University, Aptima and the Group for Organizational Effectiveness.

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?

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

“To address these challenges, we need some basic team science aimed at helping Army leaders better understand how to optimally select, compose, train and build cohesion in 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 hypothesis 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 grant 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.

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