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Research Questions

  1. How do development teams function today?
  2. Are there ways to improve the teams efficiency and effectiveness?
  3. On what things should the teams focus in the future?

From their commissioning, Air Force officers mature into midlevel and senior leaders by gaining experience over time in positions of increasing responsibility and by participating in a number of developmental education and assignment opportunities. Once, the development activities in which individuals engaged were determined in part by recommendations from mentors, more-senior officers in specific career fields, and by the officers' own understanding about what it would take to progress as an Air Force officer. A new concept for leadership and force development was implemented in 2004. That concept included something called the development team (DT). A DT focuses on professional development, meeting regularly to review officers' plans and performance assessments, compare these against requirements for the career field, recommend education or special duties accordingly, and provide feedback to both the officer and his or her supervisor. DTs are also responsible for identifying candidates for command positions. After nearly nine years of experience with DTs, the Air Force asked RAND to review the role of DTs, exploring whether these teams should continue to operate and, if so, how.

Key Findings

The Air Force Should Continue the Use of Development Teams (DTs) to Guide Development

  • Career field managers and DT members judge DTs to be a very useful career field management tool.
  • DT meetings are the only opportunity for the senior officers in a career field to jointly oversee the development of officers in their career field in a comprehensive way.


  • Development teams (DTs) should no longer be required to provide steady-state vectors for all officers under review but should continue to vector and begin to track the progress of high-potential officers.
  • School seats should be allocated to DTs to meet requirements for the number of lieutenant colonels and colonels needed to fill positions in each career field, not on the basis of career field size alone.
  • The Air Force should change how decisions are made about small-school attendees.
  • The Air Force should make school assignments in such a way that officers scored highest by central selection boards should attend school as early as possible.
  • DTs should provide personalized, in addition to career field–wide, feedback to officers.
  • DTs should emphasize learning and development in their personalized feedback.
  • In addition to creating a list of officers eligible for selection to command, DTs should identify multiple recommended command positions for each officer on the command list and for each command position, the DTs should recommend several officers to avoid pigeonholing officers and jobs.
  • All DTs should identify high-potential officers, chart out their recommended paths for development, and track the officer's progress.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services (AF/A1) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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