Design as a weapon against psychological distress. A qualitative study on the influence of task force design on psychological distress during military missions

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Previous research showed that psychological distress is a relevant problem for soldiers on a military mission. This is not surprising, since soldiers are exposed to many stressors during these missions. To be able to deal with the complex environment of war-torn countries, soldiers work in temporary military organizations. From previous research it is known that such a temporary military organization has specific design characteristics that cause several difficulties. It is, therefore, not unlikely that task force design may also influence psychological distress. The purpose of this study was to generate more insight into the relationship between task force design and psychological distress, so that more knowledge could be generated about how the occurrence of and the dealing with psychological distress within temporary military task forces might be influenced by the design of the military task force. To explore this relationship, a qualitative research based on secondary data analysis was conducted. This research focused thereby on a single case, which was Task Force Uruzgan. The data consisted of 26 in-depth interviews that were useful for secondary research. These interviews were analysed by means of open, axial and selective coding. The analysis of the data resulted in nine hypotheses that present information about the possible relationship between task force design and psychological distress. The results of this research showed that the design of the temporary military Task Force Uruzgan seemed to influence psychological distress during the mission directly, by structural complexity and a lack of integration, and indirectly, by a lack of regulatory capacity. It can be concluded that there were four design features of Task Force Uruzgan that mainly influenced psychological distress during the mission. First, designing the task force by mixing and matching parts of the parent organization resulted in a different social interaction network during the mission in Uruzgan than the social interaction network the military was used to work in. Also, the mixing and matching of parts of the parent organization seemed to create a lack of integration within the task force. Both influenced psychological distress mainly directly. On top of that, Task Force Uruzgan appeared to have a high level of separation of regulatory and operational transformations, a high level of differentiation of operational transformations and a high level of specialization of operational transformations. The results of this research showed that these three design features also seemed to influence several problems that were related to psychological distress, directly and indirectly. KEYWORDS: psychological distress, temporary military organization, organization design, Task Force Uruzgan
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen