Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Team Adaptation in Uncertain Environments: A Descriptive Case Study of Dynamic Instability in Navy SEAL Units
by Livingston, David R., Ed.D., The George Washington University, 2015, 185; 3680645
Abstract (Summary)

The United States increasingly calls upon elite teams of Special Operations Forces, like the Navy SEALs, to respond to the evolving asymmetric threats posed by terrorists and extremists. These teams must have the capacity to adapt as a collective unit in the most dynamic circumstance. This research explored the nature of collective adaptation by these exceptional action teams using a qualitative case study methodology and a lens of complexity theory. Specifically, data gathered from official documents and interviews with retired Navy SEALs expanded the understanding of dynamic instability as it relates to team adaptation in uncertain environments. A greater understanding of this phenomenon contributed to the scholarly literature by identifying and describing the critical factors used by teams to promote adaptive capacity through the appropriate usage of structure and innovative flexibility in a dynamically changing situation. The study produced the following conclusions: 1. Individuals in an action team mentally reference a combination of general simple rules and situation-specific simple rules when they adapt in an uncertain environment. • Varying application of different types of simple rules correspond with different levels of environmental uncertainty. • Simple rules provide the basis for a shared cognitive structure that enables greater collective adaptation. 2. Previous experience plays an important role in the adaptive capacity of an action team. • Experience provides an individual with context to determine how simple rules can and should be applied. • Experience strengthens the relationship (trust and familiarity) between team members which allows them to adapt more quickly and effectively as a collective. 3. Relationships between team members, grounded in previous experience and a shared culture, play an important role in the adaptive capacity of an action team. • Trust between team members gives each individual the freedom and permission to take initiative and adapt as necessary. • Familiarity between team members enables the action team to collectively adapt more quickly and effectively because they can predict how another teammate will react given a specific set of parameters without the need for extensive communication. 4. The ability of individual team members to control emotions, slow and simplify reactions, and focus communication promotes more effective adaptation by an action team in an uncertain environment. • Individual decision-making is enhanced when individuals are able to control their reactions and react calmly in the midst of an uncertain environment. • As environmental uncertainty increases, individuals who react by slowing down and simplifying their actions are capable of more effective adaptation. • In an uncertain environment, action teams that focus communication, reduce potential distractions for team members. This reduced, but effective communication is possible because of trust and familiarity between team members. 5. An action team's ability to adapt is dependent upon its dynamic instability (the interplay between morphostatic and morphogenetic factors). • Morphostatic factors that promote structure include simple rules, selection of team members, familiarity between team members, and perpetuation of a structured culture that regulates behavior. • Morphogenetic factors that promote flexibility include previous experience, distributed leadership, trust between team members, and perpetuation of a permissive culture that encourages innovation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Schwandt, David
Commitee: Cahill, Terrence, Gorman, Margaret
School: The George Washington University
Department: Human and Organizational Learning
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 76/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Organization Theory, Organizational behavior, Range management
Keywords: Adaptation, Complexity theory, Dynamic instability, Navy seals, Teams, Uncertain environments
Publication Number: 3680645
ISBN: 978-1-321-52905-0
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