The Science of Teamwork: Progress, Reflections, and the Road Ahead

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Abstract

We need teams in nearly every aspect of our lives (e.g., hospitals, schools, flight decks, nuclear power plants, oil rigs, the military, and corporate offices). Nearly a century of psychological science has uncovered extensive knowledge about team-related processes and outcomes. In this article, we draw from the reviews and articles of this special issue to identify 10 key reflections that have arisen in the team literature, briefly summarized here. Team researchers have developed many theories surrounding the multilayered aspects of teams, such that now we have a solid theoretical basis for teams. We have recognized that the collective is often stronger than the individual, initiating the shift from individual tasks to team tasks. All teams are not created equal, so it is important to consider the context to understand relevant team dynamics and outcomes, but sometimes teams performing in different contexts are more similar than not. It is critical to have teamwork-supportive organizational conditions and environments where psychological safety can flourish and be a mechanism to resolve conflicts, ensure safety, mitigate errors, learn, and improve performance. There are also helpful teamwork competencies that can increase effectiveness across teams or tasks that have been identified (e.g., coordination, communication, and adaptability). Even if a team is made up of experts, it can still fail if they do not know how to cooperate, coordinate, and communicate well together. To ensure the improvement and maintenance of effective team functioning, the organization must implement team development interventions and evaluate relevant team outcomes with robust diagnostic measurement. We conclude with 3 main directions for scientists to expand upon in the future: (a) address issues with technology to make further improvements in team assessment, (b) learn more about multiteam systems, and (c) bridge the gap between theory and practice. In summary, the science of teams has made substantial progress but still has plenty of room for advancement.

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