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Chun-Shin Taylor, Jessica Haas, Kari A. O'Grady, Ph.D., J. Douglas Orton, Ph.D.

Spirituality and Sensemaking in Teams: Lessons from Afghanistan

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The U.S. Army Human Terrain System (HTS) functions as the primary and enduring social science-based human domain research, analysis, and training capability focused on enabling leaders to remain adaptive when shaping current and future complex strategic and operational environments which support Unified Action Partners worldwide. The HTS’s Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) were generally composed of an ex-military team leader, senior and junior social scientists, and a research manager. Teams deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in 2005, as an effort to utilize social science to understand the local individuals, or human terrain, for effective execution of military operations (Orton & Lamb, 2011). 

The initial design of this collaboration involved few teams with extensive training; however, the urgency of the need for social science to inform military action necessitated more teams to be trained more quickly. As a result many social scientists and anthropologists reported feeling under prepared for the complex dynamics of military culture, national culture, and diverse faith cultures. HTT’s deployed to war zones with limited resources and differing objective understandings. Unexpected adjustments required team members to enact sensemaking while in the field. 

Multiple studies have distinguished the resilience phenomena at individual, organizational, and international levels, yet much more research is necessary to explicate the multifaceted aspect of resilience in team settings (O’Grady, 2014; Orton & Lamb, 2011; Weick, 1993). Spirituality has been identified as an embedded factor in sensemaking which will ultimately foster resilience that could be defined as a form of transformation (Kayes, 2004; O’Grady, Orton, Schreiber-Pan, & Jean-Charles, 2013). 

Working with Professors Dr. O’Grady and Dr. Orton in the 916.501/917.502 Qualitative Research Methods course, our class conducted in-depth interviews of five Human Terrain Team members from varying teams deployed to Afghanistan. Through qualitative methodology, deductive epistemology, and constructive ontology we have identified the role of spirituality in team sensemaking in Human Terrain Teams. The findings of this study elucidate the unique dynamics of the sensemaking process leading to resiliency development in team settings. This poster will discuss the enactive and retentive sense-losing process that precedes sensemaking, narrowing focus to the sensemaking process facilitating team resilience in Human Terrain Teams (Kayes, 2004; O’Grady, 2014; Orton & Lamb, 2011; Weick, 1993). The findings from the interlocking systems of hierarchical military system, relationships within indigenous people in East Asian countries, and unique individual beliefs within the team enhance the understanding of sensemaking in the development of resiliency.

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