This past week, leaders from High Consequence Industries (HCI) came together to share ideas on Safety, Training, and Engineering Processes. As the name implies, an HCI is a field of work in which lives may be at stake if something goes wrong - think aviation, nuclear energy, and, most relevant to Jump, health care. That’s why it is important for these industries to share ideas on how to promote a culture of safety.
Dr. Ron Stevens was one of the speakers at the conference, presenting his and Trysha Galloway’s research on team neurodynamics. While that sounds like a big word, team neurodynamics is about studying the nervous system during teamwork. They measure the brain waves of every member involved in a team and correlate it to how well the team is organized and performs on tasks.
Brain activity in individuals can become synchronized by visual or auditory cues. For example, when you listen to a song, your brain waves start becoming synchronized with the beat of the song. When listening to the same song with a group of friends, the brain activity of everyone in the group becomes synchronized due to the beat of the music.
Dr. Stevens and Galloway conducted research on a team running a submarine simulation. Prior to the simulation, the team was briefed on what was expected of them. The team experienced their highest level of synchronization during the briefing, indicating that the team was highly organized and on the same page for their expectations of the simulation – they knew what to expect of each other, they knew their goal, and they knew how to achieve the goal.
During the course of the simulation, the synchronization between them was at a low point. This was because each member had his own task to think about. Dr. Stevens mentioned that there are two sides to the brain: the analytic brain, which is focused on the task at hand; and the social brain, which is focused on working with others.
The more you do of one, the less you are able to do of the other. So as the team members focus on their own tasks, they become less synchronized with each other. In order to ensure that the team is still approaching their goal, the entire team was required to call out an update every three minutes, at which point the team became more synchronized during the status update.
When the team consciously realizes that that an error has occurred, or the team is unable to manage with the current approach, the entire team synchronizes and initiates reorganization efforts to get back on track.
When a synchronized team encounters an error or impending error they are better able to read the tone and actions of their teammates and subconsciously predict what is coming next. Which, in turn, allows them to take corrective action quicker. To explain in other terms, let’s go back to the music example.
Based off of Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis' research, there is a TED-Ed video about why we love repetition in music. If there is repetition in music, we become synchronized with the music. We can then predict the next note in our heads without thinking about it. The same applies to working in a team. When team members synchronize, they are able to predict what comes next, without having to consciously think about it.
Being able to synchronize team members is a characteristic of a team that works well together. Communicating regularly helps ensure the team maintains the periodic synchronization. And finally, familiarity with team members can help predict and prevent errors, while acknowledging errors as they happen can lead to faster corrections.
To learn more about Team Neurodynamics, visit their website.