Evaluating teamwork in the submarine, medical fields

Groton — Submarine teams and medical teams aren't all that different.

At least that's what a team of researchers found out in developing a way to clearly assess the resilience of tactical teams in the submarine force. Now, they are pitching the idea to the medical community.

Between 2005 and 2013, Ron Steed, UpScope Consulting Group, Rick Severinghaus, CRTN Solutions, Robie Armbruster, CGI, and Cynthia Lamb, URS, developed the Submarine Team Behaviors Tool while working at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory in Groton.

The group was interested in evaluating submarine teamwork because most training procedures in the submarine force focus on skills given the technical nature of the field, but not what good teamwork looks like.

The tool they developed allows someone with experience in submarines, like a commanding officer or an executive officer, to watch a team work together and have something substantial to say about how they performed together.

"Things that you can see or hear people doing," Steed explained.

The goal is for the commanding officers and executive officers to be detached from the decision making — to take on a position of oversight instead of being deeply involved in the problem and how to solve it.

Steed and the others are particularly interested in the degree to which a team's problem-solving capacity, critical thinking, decision making, use of bench strength and dialogue are used in stressful operational situations.

The tool essentially is a grading rubric on a sheet of paper, and while it was developed for commanding officers and executive officers, those who have been most excited about are young lieutenants.

"Many of them have served on excellent teams themselves, so they experience a lot of 'aha' moments when they begin to understand just why it was those teams were high-performers, and that they can have a hand in teaching those methods to others," Steed said.

The researchers are now undergoing a scientific validation study at the lab, which means that they are going out to see how it's working in the field.

As part of the study, Steed said, "we are putting the tool into the hands of instructors who are training submarine crews for upcoming deployments."

"​We are trying to measure whether the use of the tool will make a difference in the performance of these crews," he added.

As a result of the study and feedback from the fleet, the researchers will make small changes to the tool.

"We are looking for measures that need to be clarified or re-worded, maybe a couple of measures that could be deleted because we don't see them very often or they are not particularly useful, and we are looking for additional measures that we hadn't thought about," Steed said.  

The submarine force began using the tool in late 2013, but it is optional and not used across the board. But the researchers expect that it will be fully implemented and mandatory later this year.

While developing the tool, the researchers found that there are several parallels between submarine teams and medical teams. Both experience high-stress situations with a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty, Steed said.

At the end of April, the researchers traveled to Baltimore, Md., and appeared on a panel at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society's Healthcare Symposium. There, they introducted the tool to the medical community and hope it can help that community build more resilient teams especially in surgical and emergency trauma situations.

The challenge is figuring out how to apply the tool universally across the medical domain. One way to do that could be through training hospitals or even insurance companies, which have paid for various trainings to lower liability risks and costs.


Twitter: @JuliaSBergman 


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