Leading in extreme environments: a study of the unobservable part of officer cadets’ activity during high-intensity training courses

Empirical studies
By Hervé de Bisschop, Simon Flandin, Jérôme Guérin

Leading a team in an extreme environment is a very hard task but often crucial for its performance. Without always having been trained or prepared for it, team leading is a matter of creating the necessary conditions to face and overcome high-intensity events (characterized by instability, uncertainty, confusion, danger, etc.). This requires situated management in close connection to team members, which remains largely unobservable and is not directly accessible. Our study aimed to (i) better understand the nature of the activity of leaders as they seek to maintain the operational capability of team members in extreme environments and (ii) derive orientations for leader training. Based on the theoretical framework of the course of action, our study aimed to qualify the unobservable part of this activity by analyzing the experience of these leaders (officer cadets) and by identifying the necessary dispositions to maintain this operational capacity during high-intensity simulation training. Six officer cadets involved in the training course participated in the study, all had initial experience in group management. We collected data from (i) direct observations, (ii) video observation, and (iii) self-confrontation interviews (Theureau, 2010). The data processing consisted in associating significant behavioral indicators (observation data) with elementary units of meaning (interview data). An in-depth semiotic processing of the interview data enabled us to document the unobservable part of the participants’ sensemaking from their intrinsic point of view. We used the theoretical objects of “course of experience”, “activity-sign”, and “disposition” to analyze the data. The results describe four typical dispositions: (i) ensuring team unity, (ii) mobilizing the body as a resource, (iii) regulating emotions according to modes of expression and masking, and (iv) articulating opposites as a mode of exercising discernment in action. The discussion conceptualizes these dispositions as conducive to the creation of “negentropic” workspaces, and gives insights for vocational education, preparedness and training.

  • extreme environments
  • managerial activity
  • dispositions
  • vocational training
  • activity analysis
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info