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Analyzing Communication Sequences for Team Training Needs Assessment

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The importance of teams in the workplace, and the need to provide effective training for these teams, has emerged as an important research area over the past decade. Although considerable progress has been observed in this area, other challenges to team training have not been met. Most notable among these has been a failure to understand fully the nature of effective team process. For example, the research literature regarding team communication is largely equivocal and offers few useful directions for training. In an effort to improve on this situation, we assessed differences in communication sequences between effective and ineffective crews in two flight simulation studies. We thereby applied elements of a modern data analysis approach, Exploratory Sequential Data Analysis (ESDA; Sanderson & Fisher, 1994), to the analysis of team training needs. It was believed that using this approach to study aircrew communications would yield more useful guidance for training than have traditional frequency counts.

Previous Work Studying Crew Communications

Several researchers have studied the utility of counting the number of communication acts to study aircrew performance. Orasanu (1990), Foushee and Manos (1981), and Mosier and Chidester (1991), for example, found that better-performing teams demonstrated more overt communications than did crews that performed worse. At the same time, however, other studies have only partially confirmed the hypothesis that more communications are associated with better performance (Jentsch, Sellin-Wolters, Bowers, & Salas, 1995; Orasanu & Fischer, 1991). Jentsch et al., for example, found that crews who used more standard phraseology, made more statements indicating leadership, and verbalized more observations about their environment were significantly faster at identifying a problem than those who used fewer of these communications. At the same time, these "communicators" were not faster in solving the problem. This suggests that one cannot conclude that more communications are always related to better performance.

In fact, at least one study has shown the reverse: Thornton (1992) found that the number of situational awareness statements made by crews in a flight simulation was positively correlated with the number of errors they committed. Thornton suggested that poorly performing crews might have employed a large number of these communications in order to correct previous mistakes. Observer ratings of the crew's performance supported this hypothesis.

As is apparent from the foregoing discussion, the data are equivocal regarding the utility of counting communication acts to assess team performance. This has prompted some researchers to suggest other analyses of team communications. In particular, analyses that consider the quality and temporal sequence of communication have been recommended. Kanki and her colleagues, for example, have suggested the analysis of sequential patterns among speakers (Kanki, Folk, & Irwin, 1991; Kanki, Lozito, & Foushee, 1989; Kanki & Palmer, 1993). Their results indicated that speaker patterns distinguished between high- and low-error crews: Whereas poorer performing teams demonstrated little consistency in their speaker patterns, good crews demonstrated very consistent speech in terms of the sequence of speakers and the content of communications. This suggests that losses attributable to mismatches between expectations and actual communications may be reduced through the standardization of communication sequences.

The present studies attempted to extend the work of Kanki and her colleagues by employing a more elaborate pattern analysis of communication events. By focusing on patterns of specific communication behaviors, it was believed that one might derive hypotheses regarding the nature of effective communication and, subsequently, important directions for team training. …