Did It Have To End This Way? Understanding the Consistency of Team Fracture

Mark Whiting, Allie Blaising, Chloe Barreau, Laura Fiuza, Nik Marda, Melissa Valentine, and Michael Bernstein
CSCW: ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 2019
Was a problematic team always doomed to frustration, or could it have ended another way? In this paper, we study the consistency of team fracture: a loss of team viability so severe that the team no longer wants to work together. Understanding whether team fracture is driven by the membership of the team, or by how their collaboration unfolded, motivates the design of interventions that either identify compatible teammates or ensure effective early interactions. We introduce an online experiment that reconvenes the same team without members realizing that they have worked together before, enabling us to temporarily erase previous team dynamics. Participants in our study completed a series of tasks across multiple teams, including one reconvened team, and privately blacklisted any teams that they would not want to work with again. We identify fractured teams as those blacklisted by half the members. We find that reconvened teams are strikingly polarized by task in the consistency of their fracture outcomes. On a creative task, teams might as well have been a completely different set of people: the same teams changed their fracture outcomes at a random chance rate. On a cognitive conflict and on an intellective task, the team instead replayed the same dynamics without realizing it, rarely changing their fracture outcomes. These results indicate that, for some tasks, team fracture can be strongly influenced by interactions in the first moments of a team’s collaboration, and that interventions targeting these initial moments may be critical to scaffolding long-lasting teams.