Article #5
1998
 
 
 
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Team Adaptation to Time Pressure in Dynamic Environments

Leonard Adelman
Fairfax, Virginia

My students (DeVere Henderson and Sheryl Miller) and I have been examining how teams adapt to increasing levels of time pressure in a study we conducted this year. Conceptually, we are using the multi-level, lens model that Brehmer and Hagafors developed in 1986 to study staff decision making, and that Rob Mahan and his students at the University of Georgia have used in the research they've described in the last two conferences. Seven, three-person teams participated in our study. Each team was composed of ROTC cadets, who participated in the study for two hours per week for seven weeks. Our task was a dynamic, aircraft identification task. Two staff members (and a leader) had to track aircraft on their screens, pass information about the aircraft to each other, and make recommendations about the aircraft's level of hostility, which the leader could then use to make judgments while the aircraft were on the screen.

Consistent with Ken Hammond's recent presentations, we hypothesized that increased time pressure (i.e., less time to make a judgment about each aircraft), would (1) affect teams' correspondence constancy (i.e., performance would deteriorate), but that (2) teams would adapt (perhaps in different ways) in an effort to maintain it. That is exactly what we found. Performance decreased, although not as quickly or precipitously as predicted. In addition, there were few significant differences in the teams' overall performance scores. Teams did, however, adapt (or not) in different ways to increased time pressure. Three of the seven teams tried to continue performing the task as trained regardless of the time pressure; that is, the subordinates kept sending identification recommendations to the leader for all aircraft. (We think these teams tried to work faster and use simpler, more intuitive organizing principles, but we're still doing analyses.) In contrast, two teams simplified the task by having each subordinates make recommendations for only half the aircraft. And in two teams, the leader took over the entire decision making task by having subordinates only send information about the aircraft, not recommendations.

In addition, the leaders made clear speed-accuracy trade-offs in an effort to maintain performance. For example, in the condition with the greatest time pressure, the leader of one of the two leader-controlled teams made judgments for more aircraft than any other team, but had the lowest achievement score (ra). In contrast, the leader for the other leader-controlled team had the highest achievement score, but made the fewest number of judgments. Utilization of these (and other) adaptation strategies resulted in essentially equivalent levels of performance overall because none of the teams were able to maintain both speed and accuracy under high time pressure. More generally, we consider the study as just a first step toward applying the concepts of vicarious mediation and vicarious functioning to (a) understanding how teams adapt in efforts to maintain correspondence constancy, and (b) designing systems to support them.

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