Supporting Distributed Teams with Observability Displays. The effects of Team Experience and Task Complexity
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More and more organizations use team-based work settings, as teams can deal with more complex and difficult tasks than a single person can. Due to the technological advances in the last decennia, work is done more often by virtual teams. Coordination within these distributed teams is more difficult as staying aware of each others’ endeavors when working distributed is difficult. Present study focused on the influence of team experience and task complexity on the use of an observability display and coordination. An observability display makes elements (information) visible that are non-observable without explicit effort because of a temporal or spatial boundary. With use of observability information, for example about the task, progression and workload of others, distributed team members can predict what the others will do. Because of this mutual predictability, the coordination process can be more flexible and pro-active. As the usefulness of an observability display might depend on the degree to which team members are familiar to each other and have developed a shared mental model, present study examined the influence of team experience on the use of an observability display and coordination. Next to that, the influence of task complexity on the use of an observability display and team coordination was examined, as the use of a display to coordinate tasks may depend on the attention that is needed for the tasks the team members are working on. An experiment in which 16 three-person teams worked on a Sudoku puzzle-task was conducted. During six trials of 20 minutes, distributed team members had to solve Sudoku puzzles and coordinate work by using an observability display. In order to examine the effect of task complexity, half of the trials consisted of Sudoku puzzles that were more complex than the puzzles in the other three trials. Results show that coordination within distributed teams improves over time and use of the observability display remained constant. The observability display was used more in low complexity tasks compared to high complexity tasks and coordination during low complexity tasks was rated higher than coordination during high complexity tasks. The results showed that distributed teams can be supported with an observability display as it gives team members the possibility to be aware of each others’ activities and coordinate tasks without disturbing each other. Coordination within future and ad hoc teams can be supported with an observability display, mainly in low complexity tasks. Results from this study could be used in the development of observability displays.