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WRAIR develops TeamCORE to support small cohesion

Group of soldiers in a field Paratroopers with 1st Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Airborne) move from one position to another to provide coverage for their fellow Infantrymen in the Grafenwoehr Training Area this summer. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Sawyer, 173rd Airborne Brigade.)

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For centuries, unit cohesion has been a major focus of military strategists and leaders. Marked by trust, good leadership and strong communication, cohesive units meet higher standards, fight better, suffer fewer casualties and manage stress better.

These outcomes are critical to developing high-quality, mentally tough Soldiers with the skills and expertise required for Multi-Domain Operations. They can also pay dividends during times of stress at home—for example, during the strain of a global pandemic, a tightly-knit unit can mitigate behavioral health concerns and maintain high levels of productivity, even when physically distanced.

As such, lack of unit cohesion—social isolation—remains a topic of concern for the Army’s behavioral health leaders.

“More than 30% of Soldiers report feeling socially isolated from their teams, placing them at risk for more mental health problems,” explained Army Lt. Col. Samuel Preston, chief of MEDCOM’s Behavioral Health Division and the Army Surgeon General’s psychiatry consultant. “It’s harder to trust and work closely with people you feel disconnected from, particularly in stressful situations, making this a unit-level problem as well.”

Army researchers hope the answer to this is Team Cohesion and Organizational Resilience Enhancement—or TeamCORE—a training program created by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research based on a University of Chicago program.

“Social isolation is more than just feeling lonely—it’s about how you relate to other people,” said Coleen Crouch, a research psychologist at WRAIR. “We built TeamCORE to equip Soldiers with the tools to assist those at risk for social isolation, build new connections, communicate effectively and defuse tension within their units.”

Initial assessments of TeamCORE led by Crouch’s team show promising results: Soldiers were more likely to understand the risk of social isolation to themselves and their unit, with attitudes towards social connection improving by 10-20%. Underscoring the critical importance of engaged leaders, Soldiers reported less loneliness when unit leaders engaged in behaviors that promoted social connection.

Work is ongoing by Crouch’s team to continue improving and evaluating the training with the ultimate goal of delivering a validated program to the Behavioral Health Division. Behavioral health officers will be able to add it to their toolkit to proactively work with units to strengthen their readiness.

Although designed with Soldiers in mind, TeamCORE can be applied to any Service member, and any small unit.

“We think TeamCORE can have a positive impact on individuals and teams” said Preston. “Ultimately, we want to support units in building strong relationships based on trust and respect that allow for highly effective and resilient teams on the battlefield.”

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