Examining Shared Understanding in Partially Distributed Conceptual Design Teams
Lee, Yoon Suk
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A number of significant challenges confront effective communication in partially distributed conceptual design teams (PDCDTs), mainly due to the ill-defined and open nature of conceptual design tasks and their associated solution spaces. In contrast to co-located team members who interact face-to-face, communication difficulties among PDCDTs can intensify as a result of the physical separation of team members and their heavy reliance on communication technologies to achieve desired outcomes. Despite advances in these technologies, the ability to convey contextual and paralinguistic cues is still more limited between distant partners in comparison to face-to-face interactions. Thus, team members often experience challenges in establishing and maintaining shared understanding. In addition, partially distributed teams are more vulnerable to in-group dynamics than fully distributed or fully co-located teams. There have been substantial theoretical advances in the field of computer-mediated communication (CMC) that seek to address these challenges. Although CMC theories are hypothetically convincing and generally accepted, actual empirical findings are to some extent either unconvincing or contradictory. Moreover, questions remain about whether CMC theories can hold up in the context of non-equivalent communication technologies. The proliferation of various communication devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops)–not to mention the growing corporate use of fully immersive telepresence technologies–means that a variety of combinations of communication devices can be used. To date, however, the majority of CMC studies have focused on the use of equivalent communication technologies (e.g., laptop to laptop). Given these practical challenges and research gaps, the overall objective of this study was to investigate how to improve shared understanding in PDCDTs. The study encompassed four distinct research threads. Study 1 conceptualized shared understanding in PDCDTs. From Study 1, factors associated with shared understanding were identified, and an input-process-output (IPO) model of shared understanding was developed. Study 2 examined the intra- and inter-sub-group communication patterns among PDCDTs. From Study 2, three different analytical approaches for exploring communication patterns were used to elucidate valuable insights into how interactions within and across sub-groups change with design tasks, as well as how individual roles and interpersonal dynamics affect those interactions. Study 3 utilized the outcomes from Study 1 (IPO model of shared understanding) to develop and validate an instrument to measure shared understanding. Lastly, Study 4 examined how different combinations of non-equivalent communication technologies impacted shared understanding in PDCDTs by using the shared understanding instrument developed from Study 3. Specifically, four types of communication technology conditions were utilized: (1) telepresence to telepresence (two different sizes), (2) telepresence to laptops, (3) telepresence to mobile devices, and (4) laptops to mobile devices. The findings revealed significant impacts of communication technologies on co-located and distant shared understanding, as well as differences between co-located and distant shared understanding for each communication technology condition. In addition, the impacts of shared understanding on different communication technology user groups were identified. Based on these findings, a number of communication technology recommendations, as well as managerial intervention strategies to operate successful PDCDTs, were developed.
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