Parallel Worlds: Repeated Initializations of the Same Team To Improve Team Viability

Mark Whiting, Irena Gao, Michelle Xing, N'godjigui Junior Diarrassouba, Tonya Nguyen, Michael Bernstein
CSCW: ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 2020
A team's early interactions are influential: small behaviors cascade, driving the team either toward successful collaboration or toward fracture. Would a team be more viable if it could undo initial interactional missteps and try again? We introduce a technique that supports online and remote teams in creating multiple parallel worlds: the same team meets many times, led to believe that each convening is with a new team due to pseudonym masking while actual membership remains static. Afterward, the team moves forward with the parallel world with the highest viability by using the same pseudonyms and conversation history from that instance. In two experiments, we find that this technique improves team viability: teams that are reconvened from the highest-viability parallel world are significantly more viable than the same group meeting in a new parallel world. Our work suggests parallel worlds can help teams start off on the right foot — and stay there.