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Teamwork in extreme environments

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date28/07/2020
Number of pages255
Awarding Institution
Award date28/07/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Teams are relied upon in extreme and challenging environments in which there are considerable demands and failures can have severe consequences. Despite an increased interest in extreme teams, empirical research remains limited. Moreover, whilst the literature differentiates between extreme and non-extreme teams, it rarely distinguishes between different types of extreme teams. In this thesis, I argue extreme teams can be differentiated into multi-team systems (MTS) and teams in isolated, confined environments (ICE). I draw on contextual challenges present in different types of extreme environments to examine what factors support teamwork in emergency response teams (MTS) and expedition teams (ICE). In doing so, I identify methodological and analytical approaches suitable for researching extreme teams (Chapter II and V).
MTS often form quickly in the response to emergencies. This creates challenges in establishing communication channels and managing conflicting objectives across inter-agency partners who may have limited experience working with one another. To address these challenges, I explored how teams communicated and coordinated in crises and if this is influenced by team member familiarity. Data were collected from immersive simulations with commanders in the emergency services and students. Mixed methods analysis showed how team processes changed across time (Chapter III) and how familiarity (Chapter IV) alleviated some of the challenges of working in MTS. In contrast to MTS, teams in ICE co-exist for pro-longed periods in hostile and remote settings. This creates challenges in maintaining team cohesion and balancing the personalities and characteristics of isolated individuals for pro-longed periods. Here, I used a diary methodology to track changes in cohesion over time and explore if fluctuations in cohesion are predicted by day-to-day events and the personality composition of teams (Chapter V). Theoretical implications for the importance of context in shaping team behaviours and practical implications for teams operating in extreme environments are provided.