Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Review of the Groupware Literature: Theories, Methodologies and a Research Agenda

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Review of the Groupware Literature: Theories, Methodologies and a Research Agenda

Article excerpt


The extant literature on groupware, mainly found in Computer Science and Management Information Systems journals, has been almost completely ignored by Industrial-Organizational Psychology. The lack of integration of this information into research on "traditional" organizational team performance is surprising. This paper brings the groupware literature to the attention of researchers and practitioners. Additionally, the theoretical frameworks used in the groupware research do not reflect recent developments in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (e.g., groupware research does not generally include critical contextual variables). Based on this review, we propose a comprehensive and integrated research agenda for future work in this area.

While there is ample recognition in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behaviour disciplines of the importance of groups and teams in the workplace (e.g., Drucker, 1959; Er & Ng, 1995; Guzzo, 1995; Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Nadler & Ancona, 1992; Peters & Waterman, 1982; Sundstrom, DeMeuse, & Futrell, 1990), the majority of the research in these fields has focused on teams that operate in the same geographical location where the members meet face-to-face (e.g., Levine & Mooreland, 1990; Wall, Kemp, Jackson, & Clegg, 1986). There is, however, a burgeoning literature in the area of "computer-supported cooperative work" (CSCW). The focus of this field is how technology affects groups that work together -- often with groups located in different places and time zones -- with the goal of enhancing that work. One well-accepted definition of CSCW is the "study and theory of how people work together, and how the computer-related technologies affect group behavior" (Greenberg, 1991, p. 133).

CSCW is clearly multidisciplinary with researchers from psychology, sociology, communication, computer science, engineering, and management all having a stake in the research outcomes. "Groupware" is a particular aspect of CSCW pertaining to the computer technologies that actively facilitate groups of collaborating users (Krasner, McInroy, & Walz, 1991). Groupware is supposed to enable groups of individuals that are geographically and temporally distributed, to interact effectively. Groupware can take many forms, including electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards, collaborative authoring tools, screen-sharing software, tele-conferencing systems, video-conferencing systems, and Group Decision Support Systems (Greenberg, 1991).

Claims for the potential use of groupware are many and glowing. Valacich, Dennis, and Nunamaker (1991) say that group tasks such as communication, planning, idea generation, problem solving, issue discussion, negotiation, conflict resolution, systems analysis and design, and collaborative document preparation and sharing all will be facilitated via this technology. One groupware system that has received much attention in this regard is that of Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS).

A GDSS facilitates the decision-making of groups. A typical example of this is where a group of individuals sit in a horseshoe-shaped semi-circle. There may be one or two rows of these "horseshoes." Individuals have their own computer terminal and keyboard in front of them. At the base of the horseshoe there is a large screen which can display various types of information typed in by the group members. There may or may not be a facilitator and a facilitiator's computer at the base of the horseshoe as well. Depending on the particular Group Decision Support System, the amount, type, and control of information typed in at the individual terminals can be publicly displayed. Thornton and Lockhart (1994) report that Group Decision Support Systems allow for "significant increase in the quantity of information that can be gathered, ... no one has to wait until someone else finishes speaking, ... distributed sites can work simultaneously, . …

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