Aims of Proposal
The proposed research program begins to address the performance effects of entrainment to a particular work style and then switching to another style during an operational space flight context. Specifically, we explore what individual attributes make crew members more or less susceptible to entrainment, and what can be done to mitigate the negative effects of entrainment and improve individual and team capabilities to engage in effective task switching. In addressing these questions, the proposed studies also contribute to answering the following identified Integrated Research Plan (IRP) gaps: Team Gap 1 (need to understand threats to teams during long duration missions), Team Gap 3 (need to identify countermeasures to support team function for all phases of autonomous, long duration missions), and Team Gap 8 (need to identify psychosocial and psychological factors, measures, and combinations thereof that can be used to compose effective crews for autonomous, long-duration missions).
We consider how crew member entrainment (Ancona & Chong, 1996) is influenced by the linkage between employee engagement and effectiveness in the context of jobs that vary in regard to required cognitive, emotional, physical, and social energies. The problem of entrainment may be especially problematic as astronauts shift between individual and crew tasks that may vary significantly in their physical, cognitive, and emotional demands (Smith-Jentsch, 2015). Although individual, job, and organizational attributes foster a base of job engagement (Kahn, 1990), features of the specific tasks that individuals transition between can also foster residual engagement, or the inability to decouple one’s energies from previous tasks, which in turn, can hinder effectiveness in subsequent tasks. In other words, lingering engagement in prior tasks after a transition has occurred (i.e., residual engagement) makes it difficult for individuals to mentally, emotionally, or socially disengage and disconnect from their prior task and focus their full attention and energy on the new task. The difficulty in transitioning also creates problems with transitions between tasks, and in turn, hinders effectiveness in subsequent tasks.
We are currently conducting ground experiments within HERA (Human Explorations Research Analog) as well as in Arizona State University (ASU) laboratory settings. The findings from these experiments will enhance our understanding of the psychological and interpersonal pathways through which entrainment or residual engagement operates, and individual and task attributes that can mitigate its effects. This could lead to the development of interventions to improve individual and team effectiveness in a variety of organizational contexts including exploration missions.
HERA Campaigns: In 2016, we tested our hypotheses in four HERA missions (16 participants over a one-year time period), and we plan to continue testing our hypotheses with HERA missions in 2017. Prior to analog participation, we collected relevant personality characteristics and demographic information of participants, leveraging pre-existing data on these characteristics where possible. Our objective is to integrate the work of this study as seamlessly as possible into the natural workflow of HERA non-astronaut crew members. To accomplish this, we identified transitions between independent and interdependent tasks that are performed regularly by all crew members and for which performance data is already available. In other words, we did not introduce any new tasks, but rather utilized the existing maintenance and other payload tasks which were scheduled to occur during the mission. With this information in mind, we were able to select a finalized series of “task-transition-task” episodes to serve as the focal point of the study. After the completion of the second task, crew members completed a brief survey about their engagement and residual engagement in the tasks. Individuals in HERA mission control recorded notes about crew member task effectiveness.
In total, we captured 352 task-transition-task episodes. We employed multilevel path analysis (transitions nested within individuals) to test our hypotheses. We found that NASA crews experienced residual engagement when transitioning from one task to another that partially offset the positive spillover of engagement. Our results suggest that individuals may find it challenging to let go of engaging tasks, and the degree to which they hang on cognitively and emotionally appears to hinder their subsequent task engagement and task effectiveness.
ASU Lab Studies: We recruited 364 undergraduates to participate in a lab study in exchange for course credit. Participants were randomly assigned onto a team of four individuals. Each team completed an interdependent team task, during which time each individual filled a unique role on the team. Following the completion of the team task, participants transitioned to an individual task. Our preliminary results show that individuals who were engaged in the team task experienced a higher degree of residual engagement during the individual task. Further, residual engagement in the first task (during the second task) resulted in diminished levels of engagement in the second task as well as lower levels of effectiveness in the second task. We found that these effects were particularly strong when individuals perceived the prior task was incomplete or unfinished. However, we also found that the positive indirect effects between task engagement were mediated by positive affect.
Overall, these preliminary findings reveal a better understanding of the transitional process that influences effectiveness in multifaceted work as individuals transition between tasks. Importantly, we find that engagement in a prior task can have both positive and negative consequences on subsequent tasks. On the positive side, individuals who exhibit higher levels of engagement in an initial task are more likely to experience positive affect and thereby engage in subsequent tasks, increasing their effectiveness. However, on the negative side we find that engagement in a prior task can also linger after individuals move on to subsequent tasks, negatively impacting subsequent task engagement and effectiveness. Our ongoing research aims at helping NASA leverage the benefits of engaging work during task transitions, while limiting the associated risks.
Ancona, D., & Chong, C. L. (1996). Entrainment: Pace, cycle, and rhythm in organizational behavior. Research in Organizational Behavior, 18, 251-284.
Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2015). On shifting from autonomous to interdependent work: What we know and what we need to learn (pp. 1-31). Houston, TX: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692-724.