SPECIAL ISSUE: Maynard et al – Teamwork in extreme environments: Lessons, challenges, and opportunities

Special issue in Journal of Organizational Behavior!
Given the numerous calls for researchers to examine teams in
the wild to better understand the impact of context on team
dynamics and performance, there has been increased consid-
eration of teams operating within extreme environments. As
such, this special issue is focused on better understanding
the factors that shape teamwork in extreme environments so
that the lessons learned can be leveraged within extreme as
well as in other team contexts as appropriate. To this end,
we present five exemplar papers that span disciplines, address
diverse research questions in unique samples, and employ var-
ied methodologies and research designs. Each of these papers
not only contributes new insights to the understanding of
teams in extreme environments (i.e., lessons) but also high-
lights the challenges that exist in conducting research in such
contexts and sets the stage for additional opportunities within
the extreme team literature moving forward.

Van Thielen, Decramer, Vanderstraeten & Audenaert – When does performance management foster team effectiveness? A mixed‐method field study on the influence of environmental extremity

Organizations operating in extreme environments rely on teams to tackle the highly demanding and complex situations. This study aims to provide new insights into the management of such teams by exploring the influence of environmental extremity on the relationship between performance management and team effectiveness. Mixed‐method and multilevel analyses of police teams working in different levels of environmental extremity suggest that environmental extremity moderates the rela- tionship between performance management features and team effectiveness. Both the vertical alignment of performance management and constructive feedback have a positive effect on team effectiveness. However, these positive effects are constrained in teams working in heightened levels of environmental extremity. The effects of performance management consistency and two‐way communication on team effectiveness are more nuanced and dependent on environmental extremity. When teams operate in heightened levels of environmental extremity, both features are positively related to team effectiveness. When teams operate in lower levels of environmental extremity, performance management consistency is not significantly related to team effectiveness and two‐way communication is negatively related to team effectiveness. These results provide a nuanced understanding of how perfor- mance management engenders team effectiveness in extreme environments.



Johansson et al (2018) – At the external boundary of a disaster response operation: The dynamics of volunteer inclusion

In the present article, practices of inclusion of different types of volunteers in the response to a large-scale forest fire in Sweden are studied. Semi- structured interviews were conducted with three types of voluntary actors. The volunteers were organized to different degrees, from members of organizations and participants in emergent groups to organizationally unaffiliated individuals. Organized volunteers were the most easily included, particularly if they were members of voluntary emergency organizations. It was difficult for volunteers lack- ing relevant organizational affiliation to be included. Disaster response operations are dynamic, conditions change over time, and tensions between different modes, degrees, and levels of inclusion may arise. However, irrespective of changing con- ditions, practices of inclusion of highly organized volunteers work best.

Free access here

Baird – Dancing with danger: ethnographic safety, male bravado and gang research in Colombia

Interesting piece on doing fieldwork in dangerous environments…

This article considers the dilemmas and challenges of conducting fieldwork with youth gang members in Medellín, Colombia. It draws upon the author’s experiences to develop the notion of ‘ethnographic safety’, where researchers learn to perceive and avert danger by gaining a ‘feel for the rules of the game’ (Bourdieu, 1992) in violent communities; it problematizes the role that the researcher’s gender and ‘male bravado’ played in accessing and interviewing gang members; considers the ethical conundrums of building rapport with criminal subjects; and discusses the challenges of working in complex, chronically violent communities where there are no simple dichotomies between victims and perpetrators of violence.


Kutsch – The Art of Organisational Resilience – revisiting the Fall of France in 1940

On 10 May 1940, Hitler’s Germany commenced their offensive in the West with the invasion of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Just three days later, the Nazis crossed the River Meuse, triggering the collapse of the Allied Forces. The Fall of France in May-June 1940 at the hands of Nazi Germany was one of the great surprises of the 20th century. The reason for this overwhelming and shock military defeat lends itself to renewed analysis from a management perspective.

Key Facts

  • It is commonly believed that the application of armoured “Blitzkrieg” decided this military encounter. However, this is widely a held but false belief.

Impact of our research

It is not uncommon to learn from cases that are unusual, special or extreme in some way. The context of this specific military campaign offers an extreme background to develop leadership and strategic thinking.

The defeat of France by Nazi Germany in May 1940 can be considered as a real-life David versus Goliath story. The inferior party prevails in a stunning, puzzling manner over a force that was considered ‘invincible’ at that time. However, it is less a question of what resources are at your disposal, but whether you can out-manage or out-smart your opponent. In management speak, how to intelligently manage an environment characterised by Uncertainty, Volatility, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA).

Why the research was commissioned

The study of history should be, as Clausewitz suggested, “meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield; just as a wise teacher guides and stimulates a young man’s intellectual development, but is careful not to lead him by the hand for the rest of his life.” Military encounters can give insight into major management issues not because they are directly relevant to day-to-day organisational issues, but because they offer managers the chance to explore extreme examples and identify key points that they can take back to their own work. Each one may find different points that are relevant to their own context, but dealing with uncertainty and working out how to deal with strong competitors in a fast-moving environment are issues that most organisations can identify with. It is a thought-provoking case that resonates with many of today’s challenges.



Danner-Schröder – Focusing on and Backgrounding Events Simultaneously: The Past–Present–Future Relationship of the Great East Japan Earthquake

This article examines how events from the past, present, and future form into event structures over time. This question is addressed by investigating the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 until the fifth anniversary in 2016. This allowed to analyze different events over time. The findings reveal that events can be used in two different ways. One process was meant to focus on events, whereas the other one backgrounded events. These different ways to use events revealed four different mechanisms of how event structures can be formed. Moreover, each mechanism has its own idiosyncratic temporal orientation toward either a nostalgic past, imagined future, “better” future or critical past. Second, the article contributes that the paradoxical ways of focusing on an event and backgrounding the very same event need to be embraced simultaneously to enable a greater sense of wholeness. Last, the article reveals multiple temporalities within and across temporal trajectories.



Wolbers, Boersma & Groenewegen – Introducing a Fragmentation Perspective on Coordination in Crisis Management

Coordination theories are characterized primarily by a focus on integration, in which coordination is aimed at achieving a coherent and unified set of actions. However, in the extreme settings in which fast-response organizations operate, achieving integration is often challenging. In this study we employ a fragmentation perspective to show that dealing with ambiguity and discontinuity is not only inevitable for these organizations, it is a key characteristic of coordinating. We undertook an inductive, qualitative field study on how officers in command from the fire department, medical services, and police coordinate during emergency response operations. Our data are based on a four-year multi-site field study of 40 emergency management exercises in the Netherlands, combined with 56 retrospective interviews. Our inductive analysis of this data shows that officers use three coordination practices to deal with ambiguity and discontinuity: working around procedures, delegating tasks, and demarcating expertise. We theorize our findings by showing how these practices lead to conditions in which fragmentation can become an effective method of coordination. In doing so, we provide a more complete understanding of the process of coordinating in fast-response settings that will benefit both crisis management practice and organizational theory.



This study of US Navy Sea Air and Land (SEAL) commandos contributes to research investigating mindfulness in high-reliability organizations (HROs) by identifying the indi- vidual and collective influences that allow SEALs to build capacity for mindful behaviors despite the complexity of their missions, the unpredictability of their operating environ- ments, and the danger inherent in their work. Although the HRO literature identifies a number of hallmarks of reliability, less attention is paid to how mindfulness is opera- tionally achieved in situ by individuals on the frontline working in HROs. This study addresses this gap using a multiphase, multimethod investigation of US Navy SEALs, identifying new links between individual mindfulness attributes (comfort with uncertainty and chaos) and collective mindfulness influences (a positive orientation towards failure) that combine to co-create a phenomenon we call “mindfulness in action.” Mindfulness in action occurs when HROs achieve an attentive yet flexible focus capable of incorporating multiple—sometimes competing—realities to assess alternative solutions and take action in dynamic situations. By providing a more nuanced conceptualization of the links be- tween individual mindfulness attributes and collective mindfulness influences, this paper opens up new avenues of discovery for a wide range of reliability-seeking organizations. For supporting media please see https://vimeo.com/153223681.