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Carol K. Stewart, William Flythe, Angela M. Liddie, Kari A. O'Grady, Ph.D.

Team Innovation and Resilience: Human Terrain Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Due to the complexity of cultures and environments existing in Iraq and Afghanistan, small cross-functional teams of sociocultural experts were created. Known as Human Terrain Teams (HTTs), their goal is to assist field commanders in military operational decisions by explaining the attitudes and behaviors of indigenous populations.  While other studies have sought to explain the varying success of these teams, this poster focuses specifically on innovation within the teams. Research on resilience at the organizational level acknowledges the connection of resilience and innovation. By analyzing and understanding the various factors that contribute to or detract from a team’s ability to innovate we seek to contribute to the understanding of team resilience.     

The poster presents the results of an iterative grounded theory study of the experience of five HTT members. Emergent themes (with quotes to follow) helped to clarify those factors that contribute to the success or failure of team innovation. Preliminary findings point to six factors that may contribute to or inhibit innovation within teams. 

Positive and supportive communication within the team contributes to the safe environment in which innovation flourishes. Frequency of communication enhances positive communication while infrequency may exacerbate negative communications.  Hierarchical or top down leadership has been shown to hinder innovation. Shared leadership shows a greater likelihood of creating an environment in which new ideas can be offered and discussed. However, as the innovation process is often non-linear and unpredictable, leadership that supports innovation is context dependent. A shift between the two types of leadership offers a greater chance for innovation to occur. Shared leadership has also been shown to have an effect on the connectedness of teams. Indeed, our preliminary research shows connectedness within the team as one of the key factors in providing an environment conducive to innovation.  Agreement around roles, goals and shared mission as well as the sharing of leisure activities and meals assist in facilitating this sense of connectedness.  

 Whether of background, experience or knowledge, greater diversity within a team has been connected with greater team innovation if team members are willing to embrace rather than resist this diversity. Sense-making denotes a team’s ability to integrate aspects of their surrounding environment and experiences. It is through the sense-making process and its corresponding expansion of individual world views that members of team begin to address their issues of diversity, defer to one another’s expertise, and come to an understanding of shared roles and goals thus creating an environment supportive of innovation. Experienced in various ways, spirituality was viewed by team members as the patriotism of serving God and country, the team spirit experienced when members agreed on and supported one another in mission completion, or the connection they felt with the local indigenous population.  Each of these views of spirituality contributed to team connectedness, resilience and innovation.

Though not found in the literature review, two emerging themes that caught our attention were the ability to accurately assess the surrounding environment in order to make effective decisions and the sharing of disorienting dilemmas. Further research would allow the exploration of how these factors might affect the process of innovation. 

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