The costs of switching between team and multiteam tasks, and the role of shared cognition

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Plummer, Gabriel
DeChurch, Leslie A.
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Many individuals work in teams. Many teams are interdependent with other teams. This requires that individuals engage in a specific form of multitasking to contribute to both their team and to other interdependent teams. This thesis extends research on task switching to examine the switch costs that accrue between tasks that vary in terms of the nature of interdependence. This study examined the degree to which having mental models that are more similar to ones teammates reduces the switch cost associated with moving between more and less interdependent work. This idea was tested in a laboratory experiment including 52 college students assigned to work in one of 19 teams. Each team was paired with another team to complete both “team” and “mutliteam” decision-making tasks. Mental models were measured by pairwise comparisons, and switch costs were calculated with the time it took to switch between tasks. Findings reveal the more similar an individuals’ mental model to their teammates, the quicker the individual is able to switch between tasks with different levels of interdependence (team to multiteam or multiteam to team). No difference was found in the switch cost associated with transitioning up in interdependence (team to multiteam) or down in interdependence (multiteam to team). These findings have implications for how individuals are able to manage working in teams embedded in complex systems, and how team level cognitive processes facilitate task switching in those contexts.
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