Team task management: The impact of social and technological factors on task management behavior

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McDonald, Joseph D.
DeChurch, Leslie A.
Durso, Frank
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In modern-day workplaces, knowledge workers are given more freedom than ever to choose which tasks to work on as well as how those tasks will be carried out. These choices include not only characteristics of the tasks themselves, but also a consideration of which team they will work with to accomplish the task (i.e., team factors), and the technology platforms that will be used to collaborate (i.e., technological factors). Despite the marked shift toward digitally supported team-based collaboration, research on task management focuses primarily on characteristics of tasks such as difficulty, salience, and meaningfulness (e.g., Wickens, Santamaria, & Sebok, 2013). This dissertation extends the task management literature to understand the relative impact of social and technological factors on task management. I present findings from two studies of team task management, defined as managing multiple tasks for which multiple teams are responsible. Study 1 utilized Policy Capture methodology to uncover the relative impact of three team factors: cohesion, cognition, and coordination, on individuals’ attraction to work on the team. Findings across multiple analytical approaches (i.e., multiple regression, cluster analysis, and Bayesian modeling) show team factors affect individuals’ attraction to a team task, and that cohesion is the most important aspect of the team, followed by cognition, and least important is coordination. These results offer robust support for the effect of team cohesion (and other team factors to a lesser degree) on Team Task Management decisions. Study 2 manipulated the most important team factor from Study 1, cohesion, along with a technological affordance, permanence, to understand their impact on task management behavior. Results of Study 2 did not reveal significant relations between team or technology factors on task management behavior. Thus, results from Study 2 indicate that team cohesion does not affect Team Task Management decisions when teams are working virtually using basic synchronous communication and chat function tools. Results showed no main effect of cohesion on time spent on teams in this basic-functionality virtual environment, nor any effect of the technology manipulation (i.e., chat function present versus simple synchronous communication within the shared document). Although restricting the collaboration tools was a necessary first step to understanding how individuals manage team tasks in a virtual environment, providing individuals with more information-rich tools (e.g., video conferencing) that provide additional cues to the level of cohesion on a team (e.g., non-verbal communication) could have possibly led to results similar to those seen in Study 1. Therefore, the results of Study 2 may not generalize to face-to-face teams or those using more information-rich forms of virtual collaboration (e.g., Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005). Furthermore, in Study 2, confederates served as team members who communicated statements indicative of a high or low cohesion team. Cohesion may not have affected task switching behavior in this study because of this operationalization, and its inability to adequately capture the construct of team cohesion as it is experienced in real teams. One finding from Study 2 that informs our understanding of team task management in basic synchronous communication virtual environments is that individuals are more likely to work with teams in general than on individual tasks. Taken together, the studies in this dissertation extend basic research on task management in overloaded environments to include social and technological aspects of work tasks. One practical implication of this program of research is that investing in cohesion-building strategies for teams operating in face-to-face environments can help ensure that team members plan to allocate adequate time to critical team tasks. Second, individuals switching between both individual and team tasks in a basic synchronous collaboration virtual environment are likely to spend significantly more time on team rather than individual tasks, so assigning (only) important tasks to teams will help ensure the completion of those tasks.
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