Factors affecting group performance: an application of systems theory to flightcrew performance



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Texas Tech University


Reviewers of group research have proposed the use of a systems model for aiding in the understanding of group processes (Hackman & Morris, 1975). According to systems theory, one must assess all of the relevant group input variables (e.g., member characteristics, group structure, and environment) in order to understand how they will impact upon the group process and ultimately upon the performance of the group. Recent investigations of flightcrew performance have suggested that while crewmembers are highly trained in their specific skills, there is a lack of coordination among members when an emergency situation arises; the result is poor group performance and possibly the loss of lives. Team Motivation (TM), or an individual's motivation to see the group achieve, was proposed as the relevant member characteristic in understanding crew coordination in flightcrews. TM scores have been used successfully to predict helping behavior in group members (Johnson, McDonald & George, 1984; Kesterson, 1986). Additional research on the TM concept has suggested that TM behavior can be shaped using appropriate training and feedback. The present experiment was designed to examine the relationship between Team Motivation, communication and group performance, and secondly to examine whether the motivation to achieve the group's goal could be increased with training. Two students and one confederate participated in a flight simulation game where students were assigned the roles of navigator and flight engineer. The confederate, serving as the pilot, followed only the directions given by crewmembers, thus creating a situation where crew coordination was necessary for the group to succeed. Students could opt to assist the pilot by supplying task-relevant communication, or continue to serve in their assigned role. Two blocks of trials were conducted with half of the groups receiving training/feedback between the two blocks. Results indicate that highly Team-Motivated groups were more productive than groups which were low in Team-Motivation. Additionally, high TM groups reported higher levels of satisfaction with their task. The training/feedback manipulation was not successful. This result was due to several factors. As hypothesized, the group process was defined as task-relevant communication, and it was proposed that groups which exhibited more task-relevant communication would have higher productivity. The assumption that quantity was the key appears to have been inaccurate. Rather, it is the timing or quality of the communication that seems to be of importance. Future researchers will need to be more aware of the criticality of the communication and take more direct measures (e.g., videotaping and using expert judges) before the impact of communication can be fully understood.