Over the course of this three-year programmatic research program, we (1) explore issues that can arise when astronauts switch between tasks, teams, and technologies within the complex, multiteam systems that characterize operations on the International Space Station (ISS) and during Long Duration Space Exploration (LDSE), as well as (2) investigate the effects of astronaut task, team, and technology switches on individual-, team-, and system-level performance. In particular, astronauts work individually as well as within and across different teams to accomplish their work. They also complete a variety of tasks and engage a variety of technologies in the process. Shifting across these tasks, teams, and tools holds the potential for “switch costs” in the form of process loss and performance decrements. Aspects of the various tasks, teams, and technologies make switching to/from each more/less seamless. We explore the implications of effective/efficient switching.
In Year 1 we developed a conceptual framework to guide our thinking in this area, and have conducted research in Year 2, which allows us to begin to draw conclusions about the role of task/team/technology switches on individual/team/multiteam process and performance. Our conceptual framework highlights three key types of switches (task, team, and technology) as well as two directions of switching (lateral versus vertical). Lateral switches occur when individuals shift across tasks, teams, or technologies/tools. Such lateral shifts can be either singular or compound. A singular shift entails changes in one of the three elements (e.g., the individual switches from working on task A to task B or from working with tool A to tool B). In contrast, a compound shift entails changes on two or more of the task, team, and tool dimensions (e.g., a compound task-team shift means the individual goes from working on task A with individuals X, Y, and Z to working on task B with individuals I, J, and K). Our framework also describes vertical switches, which involve a shift in the level of interdependence (e.g., individual, single team, multiple teams) needed to complete a task. Vertical shifts can be either upward (e.g., working independently to working with a team) or downward (e.g., working with a team to working independently).
In Year 2 of our project, we’ve conducted a five-pronged effort at understanding the potential role of team/task/tool switching in long duration space exploration: (1) policy-capturing research to explore the factors that affect attraction to different teams, (2) laboratory studies to explore ability to effectively make switches, (3) agent based model development to explore the psychological, task, tool, and social network based factors that determine desire to stay with or switch from a task/team/tool, (4) analog studies using HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog) crews to explore how task characteristics affected vertical and lateral switches, and (5) a task switching survey aboard the ISS.
The policy capturing research conducted in Study 1 explores the team characteristics that may contribute to team attractiveness. We explored the extent to which aspects of team cognition, cohesion, and coordination made teams more or less attractive. Results suggested team cohesiveness was the most influential factor in determining the extent to which a team was deemed “attractive” to work with. Team attractiveness is one factor that will affect an astronaut’s desire to make a team switch.
In Study 2, we conducted a series of laboratory studies to explore team and tool characteristics (e.g., shared team cognition and tool availability) that affect switch preferences and efficiency. We employed laboratory-based survival simulation tasks to explore stickiness and attractiveness of teams/tasks/tools as well as the ability to easily switch across tasks/teams. Results suggested (1) shared mental models within the team (shared cognition) predict efficiency of switching across teams/tasks, and (2) team cohesion predicts the extent to which an existing versus alternative team is more attractive to work with. Understanding factors that affect switch efficiency and attractiveness of alternative teams/tasks will inform future models aimed at developing work schedules in similarly complex environments.
In Study 3, we have worked to develop an agent based model (ABM) to predict the extent to which factors like psychological, task, tool, and/or social network attributes predict preference to stay with an existing task versus switch to an alternative task. We developed the ABM in two phases. First, we canvassed the relevant literature on task switching to determine which factors may be important to determining the “stickiness” of a task. Second, we collected laboratory data to estimate and then test the parameters of the agent based model. The ABM will be used in Year 3 to run “virtual experiments” wherein we can pose “what if” questions that will directly inform the development of effective task switching schedules.
In Study 4, we collected analog data in NASA’s HERA analog to explore the factors (like task difficulty, interest, salience, and interdependence) that influence preference and efficiency in vertical and horizontal switches. We explored how personality, cognitive similarity, and team dynamics and structure predict the relative stickiness and attractiveness among individuals within a team and multiteam system.
In Study 5, we designed a survey to administer aboard the ISS. Thus far we have designed and pilot tested the survey, and then completed the various stages of vetting for flight selection. As of the end of this reporting period we have just learned that our study was selected for flight! This effort will be conducted next year.
Our research will provide fundamental, generalizable findings in the area of efficient task switching across teams and multiteam systems. Specifically, previous models of task switching revolve around task and individual factors that affect work efficiency as individuals move from task to task throughout their workday. However, individuals not only accomplish tasks individually using one technological tool, they do so as members of multiple teams using a variety of technologies. Our conceptual framework of team task switching lays out a framework of vertical and lateral shifts, the sources of inertia, and the mediators and moderators that determine adaptive switching in today’s complicated work environments. This model affords a comprehensive understanding of how individuals adapt to dynamic, environmentally-triggered performance demands requiring them to change tasks, teams, and technologies, and shift back and forth between personal, team, and system goals. Our framework will be useful for investigating task switching in any modern-day organization facing complex collaborative challenges, such as NASA space exploration, large scientific consortia (e.g., CERN), cybersecurity teams, healthcare systems, and the military. Furthermore, findings could then be leveraged to develop system-wide interventions that increase overall work efficiency and resilience in safety-critical systems. In this review period, we have collected data across multiple platforms to begin to understand the effects of variables across our conceptual framework on individual and team task switching performance, preferences, and motivations.
In addition to providing Earth Benefits in the area of efficient task switching across teams, tasks, and technologies, we are also testing our hypotheses in analogs that recreate the unique contexts in which astronauts operate (i.e.,extreme, isolated/confined environments). We will compare results across research paradigms to see how effects of isolation/confinement may moderate team task switching behavior and performance, thus providing unique findings that will inform NASA’s operations aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and on Long-Duration Space Exploration (LDSE) missions.
NOTE: Project continues as "Team Task Switching in Astronaut Crews on the International Space Station: Integrating Multiteam Membership, Multiteam Systems, Multitasking, & Multidimensional Networks to Monitor & Enable Functional Work Shifts in Astronaut Crews--80NSSC18K0276," due to Principal Investigator move to Northwestern University in Fall 2016. See that project for subsequent reporting.