Academic journal article Human Factors

Does CRM Training Improve Teamwork Skills in the Cockpit? Two Evaluation Studies

Academic journal article Human Factors

Does CRM Training Improve Teamwork Skills in the Cockpit? Two Evaluation Studies

Article excerpt


For many years the military has known that teams are essential to mission success. Military teams have been assigned to complete a wide variety of tasks, many of which are too complex or dangerous for a single individual to accomplish (Salas, Cannon-Bowers, Payne, & Smith-Jentsch, 1998). These include surveillance, damage control, command and control, and tactical aviation tasks. Teams are often better equipped to accomplish such assignments because each member possesses the distinct skills and diverse experiences needed for the team to complete its tasks successfully (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). For similar reasons, teams are important in other specialized, nonmilitary environments such as aviation, the nuclear power industry, medical operations, manufacturing, and law enforcement.

Although teamwork is necessary in the dynamic settings mentioned previously, successful team performance does not just happen. For teams to become truly effective, they must receive training in teamwork behaviors (i.e., knowledge, skills, and attitudes [KSAs] needed to maintain effective work relations with one another) as well as task work behaviors (i.e., KSAs needed to effectively accomplish one's responsibilities; Mcintyre & Salas, 1995). Many teams find it difficult to engage in effective teamwork, especially in periods of high workload. In these instances, teams tend to focus primarily on task work demands rather than teamwork, and as a result, teamwork often breaks down (e.g., Kleinman & Serfaty, 1989; Orasanu, 1990). Research in the team training arena has identified several instructional strategies that can be used to enhance the development of teamwork and task work behaviors. One such strategy is cockpit or crew resource management (CRM). Although this is perhaps the most commonly used instructional strategy for training aviation teams, there has been little empirical evidence to support its efficacy for training critical team competencies. This lack of empirical evidence has led some to question the effectiveness of this particular strategy (e.g., Besco, 1995, 1997).

Our purpose in this paper is to describe a systematic evaluation of CRM training for teams that work in the highly dynamic environment of naval aviation. (Although the military refers to CRM training as aircrew coordination training, or ACT, we will use the term CRM throughout this paper.) We first identify the theoretical drivers used to conduct the current training and evaluation effort. Next, we address some concerns with team training evaluations and pose two questions that we feel need further investigation. We then present two separate evaluation studies of CRM training for naval aviators in two different helicopter communities. Finally, we discuss the results of these evaluations and their overall implications for team training.

Theoretical Drivers

The current training and evaluation effort was guided by two theoretical frameworks: the teamwork skills identified by Prince and Salas (1993) and the team competency framework proposed by Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas, and Volpe (1995). Both frameworks present a set of behavioral skills that are critical to effective team performance and thus should be emphasized during training.

To determine the teamwork skills needed by naval aviation teams, Prince and Salas (1993) incorporated information from three different sources (i.e., a literature review, critical incident interviews with aviators, and a team task inventory form on which aviators rated team process behaviors for importance to training and importance to mission accomplishment and safety). Seven skills emerged from the data: communication, decision making, leadership, situation awareness, mission analysis, assertiveness, and adaptability/flexibility (see Prince & Salas for a detailed description of these skills).

The importance of the skills described in Prince and Salas (1993) has been confirmed through a number of efforts. …

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