Press Release

Why we won’t get to Mars without teamwork

By SpaceRef Editor
May 24, 2018
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If humanity hopes to make it to Mars anytime soon, we need to
understand not just technology, but the psychological dynamic of a small
group of astronauts trapped in a confined space for months with no
escape, according to a paper published in American Psychologist, the
flagship journal of the American Psychological Association.

“Teamwork and collaboration are critical components of all space
flights and will be even more important for astronauts during
long-duration missions, such as to Mars. The astronauts will be months
away from home, confined to a vehicle no larger than a mid-sized RV for
two to three years and there will be an up to 45-minute lag on
communications to and from Earth,” said Lauren Blackwell Landon, PhD,
lead author of “Teamwork and Collaboration in Long-Duration Space Missions: Going to Extremes.”

Currently, psychological research on spaceflight is limited,
especially regarding teams. Applying best practices in psychology, the
authors offered insights into how NASA can assemble the best teams
possible to ensure successful long-duration missions.

Astronauts who are highly emotionally stable, agreeable, open to new
experiences, conscientious, resilient, adaptable and not too
introverted or extroverted are more likely to work well with others. A
sense of humor will also help to defuse tense situations, according to
the authors.

The long delay in communication to and from Earth will mean that
crews will have to be highly autonomous as they will not be able to rely
on immediate help from Mission Control. The authors said this will be
an ongoing challenge and having defined goals, building trust,
developing communication norms and debriefing will help alleviate
potential conflict.

The researchers also advised the use of technology to monitor the
physiological health of astronauts to predict points of friction among
team members, due to lack of sleep, for example.

“Successfully negotiating conflict, planning together as a team,
making decisions as a team and practicing shared leadership should
receive extensive attention long before a team launches on a space
mission,” said Landon.

The paper is part of a special issue of American Psychologist,
focusing on the psychology of teams and teamwork. The issue was guest
edited by Susan McDaniel, PhD, University of Rochester Medical Center,
and Eduardo Salas, PhD, Rice University.

Contact: Lauren Blackwell Landon, PhD, via email at

Among the articles in the special issue:

The Science of Teams in the Military: Contributions from over 60 years of Research
by Gerald F. Goodwin, PhD, and Nikki Blacksmith, PhD, the U.S. Army
Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Meredith
R. Coats, PhD, The George Washington University.

The U.S. military can teach us a lot about teamwork and
interdependence. The importance of teams has led the military to fund 60
years of research on the topic. From this work, we know strong
leadership is imperative and cohesive teams perform better and stay
together longer. We also know what teams think, how team members think
together and how in sync they are determines their ability to perform
well. These findings extend far beyond the military as this body of
research and ongoing work has implications for health care, space
exploration and other fields. The authors share more insights on the six
decades of teamwork research and offer directions for future research
to address the challenges in our increasingly complex and global world.

Contact: Gerald F. Goodwin, PhD, via email at

Debriefs: Teams Learning From Doing in Context
by Joseph A. Allen, PhD, Roni Reiter-Palmon, PhD, and John Crowe, PhD,
University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Cliff Scott, PhD, University of
North Carolina at Charlotte.

Debriefs are a type of meeting where teams get together to discuss,
interpret and learn from recent events in which they collaborated. In a
variety of forms, these types of meetings are used by organizations
across many industries. The U.S. military began using debriefs decades
ago to promote learning and performance across the services. Since then,
debriefs have been adopted by the medical field, fire service,
aviation, education and other industries. Research suggests that
well-conducted debriefs can increase team effectiveness by as much as 25
percent, but what are the essential components of a successful debrief?
One key aspect of a successful debrief is that it must offer a
psychologically safe space where people feel free to speak openly and
honestly without fear of reprisal. When team members worry about
criticism, blaming or being censured, the discussion is less likely to
include important information about what went wrong and that can
interfere with development of improvements in future events. This
article provides a review of a number of psychological factors relevant
to debrief effectiveness across a range of settings.

Contact: Joseph A. Allen, PhD, via email at

Team Development Interventions: Evidence-Based Approaches for Improving Teamwork
by Christina N. Lacerenza, PhD, the University of Colorado Boulder,
Scott I. Tannenbaum, PhD, The Group for Organizational Effectiveness
Inc., and Eduardo Salas, PhD, and Shannon L. Marlow, MS, Rice

The amount of time we spend at work collaborating with others is on
the rise, yet most of us do not understand how to make teams work
effectively. Simply because a group of employees is highly skilled does
not mean they will be an expert team, according to this research. The
authors advocate for psychologically informed team and leadership
training with structured programs to improve capabilities. Team building
should extend far beyond social activities to facilitator-led
discussions and exercises. The study also advised frequent team
debriefing as a way for employees to learn from an experience and to
cover what succeeded and what did not. The essential ingredients for
healthy debriefing are an environment of openness, safety, respect and
trust. The authors also discussed areas for further research, such as
virtual teams and nontraditional leadership structures.

Contact: Eduardo Salas, PhD, via email at

The Trade-Offs of Teamwork Among STEM Doctoral Graduates by Kevin M. Kniffin, PhD, Cornell University, and Andrew S. Hanks, PhD, The Ohio State University.

Teamwork has become increasingly popular in academia partly because
research shows that teams tend to produce superior work. Less is known,
however, about how teamwork affects individual-level career outcomes,
such as salary and job satisfaction. The authors of this article
analyzed data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Doctorate
Recipients, as well as the Survey of Earned Doctorates. They found that
doctoral degree holders in science, technology, engineering and
mathematics tend to earn substantially higher salaries and work more
hours when they engage in teamwork. They found no comparable difference
in job satisfaction for those who engaged in teamwork and those who did
not. These finding help to explain why people do not uniformly seek to
work in teams, as the trade-off for a higher salary seems to be more
work hours with no comparable difference in job satisfaction.

Contact: Kevin M. Kniffin, PhD, via email at

The Complexity, Diversity, and Science of Primary Care Teams by Kevin Fiscella, MD, MPH, and Susan McDaniel, PhD, University of Rochester Medical Center.

Traditionally, health care has been organized around a patient’s
face-to-face visit with a physician. In that model, nurses, medical
assistants, technicians and secretaries support the work of the
physician. As modern health care has grown more complex, this
traditional model of primary care has become outdated. Team-based
systems have evolved to accommodate changes in information, insurance
policies and patients’ needs and preferences. This article identifies
key factors that support primary care teamwork and those that challenge
it. It concludes with recommendations for advancing teams in primary
care, including changes in payment, models for primary care team
training and suggestions for further research that needs to be conducted
to address gaps in current scientific knowledge.


Contact: Kevin Fiscella, MD, MPH, via email at

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the
largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology
in the United States. APA’s membership includes nearly 115,700
researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through
its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60
state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to
advance the creation, communication and application of psychological
knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

SpaceRef staff editor.