CSU Professor works with NASA, U.S. Army to improve teams

Is being a team player something that can be taught? According to Associate Professor Travis Maynard of Colorado State University’s College of Business, the answer is most definitely yes – and it is a skill worth developing.

“It’s certainly a skill that you can learn and take with you,” Maynard said. “Teams are so prevalent in most fields and are used to some extent in most careers.”

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Maynard is currently involved in a project with NASA regarding the adaptation of teams. Maynard and his colleagues created a literature review for NASA that aimed to understand what it is about teams in general that enables some to adapt, and some to struggle when faced with obstacles.

“NASA is interested in adaptation because they’re shooting to send a team to Mars,” Maynard said. “With the communication lag that exists between Earth and Mars, it can take over 25 minutes total to completely circulate a message. What we’re trying to do is give their teams that are going to Mars more experience, more training, team development and team building so they can be more adaptable on their own and less reliant on ground control.”

Maynard and his team are starting a project in November with saturation dive teams that work on oil platforms to observe some of the impacts of strict confinement on the effectiveness of teams. The dive teams generally consist of six to nine people that perform underwater repairs on oil infrastructures and live in a pressurized chamber for roughly 28 days. These chambers are roughly the size of an average professor’s office.

“The dive teams are a nice context to study what a trip to Mars will look like because it’s isolated, confined, and it’s a life or death type of situation with a challenging endeavor in a fairly high-risk environment,” Maynard said. “It’s a good context to study what NASA is interested in in terms of their team dynamics because we’ll look at team adaptation and team resilience to understand much more about these situations.”

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Travis Maynard is an associate professor in the school of business who is working with NASA to create better teams. (Photo courtesy of Travis Maynard)

 

Maynard is also involved with the U.S. Army to create a diagnostic tool so that the leaders of army units can quickly assess the levels of resilience of their teams.

 

“What is the level of hardiness of the team? Are they able to bounce back?” Maynard said. “There are all of these interruptions that happen and there are some teams that are able to overcome the problems and some that are not. The military is also interested in these topics so it’s very convenient that I get to do research that also benefits others.”

Maynard said the benefits of conducting such research extend further than professionals sharing data and results.

“There are practical ramifications from working with teams in healthcare, NASA and the military,” Maynard said. “They’ll perform better. Overcoming challenges in the military can help save lives and succeed on missions, and helping hospitals can lead to performing better surgeries and having a positive impact on society.”

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Maynard has worked with a variety of organizations and people, including consulting teams, financial auditing teams, state police officer teams, military air traffic control teams, and global supply chain teams, on how to improve effectiveness and efficiency within their groups.

In addition, Maynard has coached and trained surgical teams in operating rooms and labor delivery rooms, and conducted research in other contexts such as major league baseball teams and referee teams for Portuguese professional soccer leagues.

 

“We go into the situations and see what’s going well and what isn’t in terms of teamwork,” Maynard said. “We look at communication and leadership, create a training program to help improve efficiency and teamwork, and then we roll out the program and monitor its impact.”

Maynard obtained his current position as an associate professor in CSU’s College of Business after intensive business experiences both globally and domestically. After receiving an MBA in organizational behavior from the University of Denver and a PhD in the same field from the University of Connecticut, Maynard says he started thinking more seriously about becoming a professor in order to study and focus in on teams.

“When I was graduating from the University of Connecticut, I was fortunate enough that CSU had an opening to teach a class about teams in the management department,” Maynard said. “It was sort of fortuitous that as I was graduating, CSU was looking to offer a course that I eventually developed the syllabi and content for.”

Maynard expressed his excitement about his ability to make a difference through conducting team-related research and teaching a class to some of the next generation of teams and leaders.

“I like doing research where I can see some real practical and visible impact, because having an impact on an organization can have a true impact on society,” Maynard said. “That’s what I truly enjoy. If you can make an impact with your research, I think that’s more valuable, more impactful for me, more engaging for me.”

Collegian Reporter Jessie Trudell can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @JessieTrudell.