Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

An Integrated Perspective of Multitasking and Multiple Team Membership

Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

An Integrated Perspective of Multitasking and Multiple Team Membership

Article excerpt


Workers in today's business environments are confronted with heavy workloads that reflect not only their regular job expectations but also their involvement in multiple teams at the same time. The majority of the current literature has studied these two topics (multitasking and multiple-team membership) independently. The goal of this paper is to integrate both conceptual outlooks by examining relevant works in both streams of research and merging them into an integrated framework. By analyzing new data collected from focus groups, and taking an individual worker's perspective, the results of this study suggest that participating in multiple teams simultaneously, fragments workers assigned activities into three levels: individual, project and group. Workers handle these multiplied demands by juggling their individual and team related assignments and multitasking within levels and across levels. This juggling is influenced by situational elements such as deadlines and deliverables, and personal factors such as multitasking skill and expected outcomes. This study is the first to examine individual multitasking activity in conjunction with multiple team duties, and its results highlight an important area for further research.

Keywords: Worker workload, business environment, integrated framework, multitasking


Contemporary work environments are characterized by collaboration and computer mediation. Although there is extensive research on the effects of group-work and computer-supported work in the modern workplace, the interaction that exists between the two deserves further exploration. Typical groupware research is focused on a single group (or assumes that people are members of one team at a time (Mortensen, Woolley, & O'Leary, 2007) and compares the effectiveness of different teams depending on the degree of virtuality as defined by Chudoba, Wynn, Lu, and Watson-Manheim (2005), or depending on the type of task, and their internal processes (Cummings, Espinosa, & Pickering, 2009).

Likewise, traditional research about computer-mediated work is centered on how people use technology individually to accomplish their jobs in general (Jasperson, Carter, & Zmud, 2005), assuming that a single task is performed at a time. Nowadays, however, typical employees are members of more than one team at a time and must combine individual and group tasks in the performance of their job duties. The combination of Multiple Team Membership (MTM) and Multitasking opens up a relatively unexplored research field. A better understanding of the demands of both issues has implications for organizations and individuals that employ these methods, and for the design of systems and features to improve work performance.

Our level of analysis is the individual worker who faces multiple demands on her time due to her participation in one or more teams and her other individual duties. This level is consistent with most of the extant literature in Multiple Team Membership that has examined the objective or subjective outcomes associated with working on multiple teams. Similarly, the individual has been the center of attention in most of the multitasking studies situated in the workplace (Appelbaum, Marchionni, & Fernandez, 2008; Gonzalez & Mark, 2005; Stephens & Davis, 2009) and elsewhere (Benbunan-Fich & Truman, 2009; Wood et al., 2012).

This paper seeks to accomplish two primary research objectives. First, we provide an overview of the rich body of literature regarding Multiple Team Membership and Multitasking in order to bring these two perspectives together. Second, we offer details of how individuals cope with multitasking and multiple team membership with insights gathered from focus groups. Based on the results of our preliminary investigation, we discuss the conditions leading up to multiple team-related demands, and the strategies that people employ to perform their work. …

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