The Impact of Information Technology on Roles and Role Processes in Small Groups

The Impact of Information Technology on Roles and Role Processes in Small Groups

Robert Heckman (Syracuse University, USA), Dave Maswick (Bard College, USA), Jamie Rodgers (Syracuse University, USA), Kevin Ruthen (Syracuse University, USA) and Gary Wee (Syracuse University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-74-2.ch013


In both corporate and academic organizations, collaborative work is frequently accomplished and managed in small work groups. These can take either the form of formal work groups or ad hoc task groups. The formal work group has relatively permanent membership, ongoing tasks, and routinized reporting relationships within the organization. Over time, skills and information of group members become more group-specific and norms more implicit. There is less communication on how to work together and more on the work itself (Finholt, Sproull, and Kiesler, 1990). Some types of work are, however, best performed in ad hoc or quickly formed task groups. According to Finholt, Sproull, and Kiesler (1990), such groups are convened for a particular purpose, consist of members who otherwise would not work together, and disband after completing their assigned task. These task groups permit an organization to respond rapidly to changes in the environment and to non-routine problems by calling on expertise regardless of where it resides in the organization. In higher education, a particular form of ad hoc task group is familiar to many instructors—the student project team. Such teams are commonly formed to allow students to tackle projects that are too big to handle individually, to allow students to teach and learn from one another, and to create opportunities for practicing the intricate dynamics of collaborative work. Given the benefits claimed for ad hoc task groups, it is presumed to be a good thing for students to gain hands-on experience in their function.

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