Looking over the horizon for team effectiveness

By Stephen M. Fiore

Stephen M. Fiore (biography)

How can we better understand how to improve team effectiveness, as well as help society more broadly? In the last decade, there has been a great deal of growth of interdisciplinary research on teams, thanks to organizations like the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research and the developing field of the Science of Team Science.

New areas

The study of teams has long been making important contributions to business organizations, the military, and healthcare and is now branching out to scientific research teams, cyber security teams, and even spaceflight teams. Each of these domains is of significant societal relevance for the 21st century. They represent important topics for what is called use-inspired basic science. This is research that is on a quest for fundamental understanding, but also has a consideration for eventual applications.

Non-human team members

What does it mean for groups and teams when humans are not the only members of a team? Advances in cognitive computing and artificial intelligence are maturing. Fundamentally, this will alter group dynamics and processes within teams where an intelligent technology is a genuine team member. With the increased prevalence of artificial intelligence, society must deal with this shift where technology is transitioning from tool to teammate.

New ways of thinking about teams

Concepts and methods from fields with ‘design’ at their core (eg., architecture, product development) can be adapted to improve team process. This includes, for example, helping represent complex problems with collaborative modeling, or helping scientists think differently about how to develop theories.

Another increasingly influential development is adoption of systems thinking and pursuit of approaches for understanding complex societal or organizational issues. These include non-linear relationships and inhibitory and/or augmenting feedback loops with variable delays between cause and effect.

Open science

This is a broad label that encompasses attempts to improve the way we do science through reproducibility and replication, as well as by creating new mechanisms for data sharing, and by changing the way we do peer review and the way we publish. Open Science has, at its core, needs that represent the very topics that team research has long studied, including research on how groups negotiate and make decisions as well as how we coordinate and collaborate in complex endeavors.

Improving team effectiveness in society

In the US, scholars have played an active role in helping to develop the “Science of Team Science” through work with the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and with policy organizations such as the National Academies of Science. This recently culminated in the publication of a National Research Council report, ‘Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science‘. As an indication of the demand society has for such knowledge, this was one of the most sought after reports published by National Academies Press in 2015.

These are examples of the many exciting developments for the effectiveness of teams and for the betterment of society. How have you improved team effectiveness? What trends do you see on the horizon?

Adapted from:
Fiore, S. M. (2016). Groups and Teams Research: The Next 10 Years. INGRoup Newsletter, Spring/Summer, 6, 1: 1 (4 and 7)
URL: http://www.ingroup.net/documents/newsletters/INGRoupNewsletterWinterSpring2016.pdf (PDF 905KB)

Biography: Dr. Stephen M. Fiore, is Director, Cognitive Sciences Laboratory, and faculty with the University of Central Florida’s Cognitive Sciences Program in the Department of Philosophy and Institute for Simulation & Training. He is President of the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research and a founding Program Committee member for the annual Science of Team Science Conference. His primary area of research is the interdisciplinary study of complex collaborative cognition and the understanding of how humans interact socially and with technology.

5 thoughts on “Looking over the horizon for team effectiveness”

  1. Steve — thank you for the post and for organizing the panel on Augmenting Science Team Performance Using External Cognition and Technology at last week’s Science of Team Science (SciTS) annual conference in Phoenix. The topics that you have listed above are some of the most interesting ones I see on the horizon as well.

    I would only highlight two additional areas where I think we as a scientific community still have a way to go: translating evidence and what we know about team effectiveness into practice; and enacting the behavior change(s) needed to do so. While the interest in the NAS report is very promising, to what extent is there support, both culturally and institutionally, to implement the recommendations? Based on the discussions at the recent SCiTS conference, this is still a relevant topic, and for some, a continual source of frustration. When it comes to enacting change, where does the value proposition for team science fall short?

    For the next conference in Florida, can we challenge the SciTS community to expand the participants to include key stakeholders whose buy-in is critical for this change? If each participant could convince a key stakeholder at their own institution (including skeptics) to participate in the next conference, how might we address this translation gap with them?

  2. Last week, the INTREPID Cost Action held a meeting in TU Delft (The Netherlands). After three days of intensive inter and transdisciplinary work – representatives of funding agencies were also invited to attend – one main issue arose: how to change silos? By “silos”, members of the network referred to those structures called “working groups” (WG) where we all – whatever the role we have or institution we are part of – constitute, integrate, fight with, etc.

    As we all know, consolidation of interdisciplinary groups is still difficult and “takes time” . This is a well-known aspect shared by all INTREPID members, nevertheless, the network was able to re-adapt and transform the structure of working groups in a new scheme.

    This was due to the acknowledgment by diverse members and leaders of INTREPID that each of the three WG is in a different level of integration or, to put it in other words, has been able to build common ground among their members but not among WGs. So how to move forward a common identity that is useful for every member no matter the WG where she/he is located?
    The answer seems to be: by taking into account “flexibility”.

    This was addressed not only by practitioners and researchers but also by policy advisors who understand that rigid structures cannot function on a long-term basis for ID programmes nor in the instruments applied.

    For its part, INTREPID members were able to rapidly identify this aspect during the meeting and try to co-construct a mutual learning process and solution to be applied in next stages.

    To answer Steve Fiore´s question: How have you improved team effectiveness? I consider that flexibility is a key issue in all group processes and entails different leves, as I tried to demonstrate with this comment: we need flexible researchers but also flexible funding instruments and calls which foster this flexible learning processes.

    • Thank you for the input, Bianca. I don’t know enough about your organization to comment on the nature of silos, but your point on flexibility does seem key.

      Your comment also makes me wonder about the general area of “competencies” and how those of us studying science collaboration have looked into this issue. Related to your point, the general trait of “tolerance for ambiguity” might also be useful in that there are a lot of unknowns with which to deal on these kinds of complex interdisciplinary integration projects.

      But I also wonder if other competencies would also be relevant to INTREPID. For example, the recently refined “Transdisciplinary Orientation” scale comes to mind. If you want to pursue this empirically, it would be interesting to use these kinds of metrics and assess their relationship to the kinds of behaviors manifested in the different working groups in INTREPID.

      One final point, I’m also reminded of the work on “multi-team systems” (MTS) that deals with what is called a goal-hierarchy. Your working groups (and other teams at INTREPID) form a MTS. Each group has its own set of goals, and all serve an overarching goal identified by INTREPID – this is the goal hierarchy. The important issue that has come out of MTS research is that goal conflict can exist in that the sub-teams within a MTS might have goals at odds with other sub-teams (despite having an overall shared goal). We wrote about MTS in the context of science collaboration in this paper. But you can find out more about MTS, in general, in this paper.

      • Thank you very much, Stephen. The suggestions you made are very relevant for our work. I have also invited Olivia Bina and Marta Varanda, who coordinate this COST Action to comment on this. maybe they have some other points to raise according to their experience.


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