Current Projects

WTO has an active portfolio of projects exploring the intersection between work, technology, and organization. Projects generally feature concern for work, mainly in technical settings, and consider the organizational issues implicated at the intersection of work and technology. Our bias is toward field-based research in which we employ ethnographic approaches to understanding work practice in situ. In some cases, we use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate phenomena of interest.

Our research projects actively involve students at all levels (Ph.D., Masters, and Undergraduate) and often include our research partners from industry as investigators. As we engage with new students and partners, our projects evolve in unanticipated and exciting directions.

Most of our projects are supported with generous funding from external agencies such as the National Science Foundation and from industry sponsors.

For a description of WTO’s early projects, click here.

Networks of Corporate Power
2008 – current
Faculty: Stephen R. Barley
Students: Thomas Haymore, Daniel Morales, and Andrew Blanco

This project focuses on identifying and analyzing networks organizations formed by campaign contributions, the employment of lobbying firms and the movement in individuals between government, corporations, lobbing firms, unions, trade associations, and citizen’s groups.

The Institutional Field of Corporate Political Power
2007 – current
Faculty: Stephen R. Barley
Students: Thomas Haymore, Daniel Morales, Andrew Blanco, and Sarah Bellows-Blakely

This project explores how since the late 1970’s corporations and other business groups have build an institutional field dedicated to shaping Federal legislation and policy in the United States.

Culture & Work Practices
2007 – current
Faculty: Pamela J. Hinds
Students: Carol Xu, Tania Laden, Lei Liu, Joachim Lyon, Brandi Pierce (Carnegie Mellon University), and Bobbi Thomason

Work is increasingly conducted in teams of people spread around the globe. For example, products are designed around the world and used by people world-wide. We are interested in how people who are working in global teams reconcile regional differences in needs and requirements and create global products. We are also conducting studies focusing on the relationship between national culture and context and the work practices that have emerged.

Cross-Cultural Responses to Technology
2005 – current
Faculty: Pamela J. Hinds
Students: Talia Brodecki, Henrietta Cramer, Heidy Maldonado, Lin Wang (Tsinghua University) and Ben Robinson

In this project, we are studying cultural differences in peoples\\’ responses to technology based on the theory that fundamental differences in cultural beliefs, values and behaviors affect how people respond to particular instantiations of technology. We have conducted studies on how people interact with and respond to intelligent agents, such as robots. More recently, we have conducted research on cultural differences in social networking behavior. To conduct this work, we rely heavily on theory and methods from cross-cultural psychology.

Culture & Creativity
2010 – current
Faculty: Pamela J. Hinds
Students: Hannah Kim, Siddarth Mishra

This project is focused on understanding cultural differences in the meaning of creativity and what stimulates it.

Robots & Teams
2006 – current
Faculty: Pamela J. Hinds
Students: Malte Jung, Siddharth Mishra

Our goal in this project is to explore the ways people will work with and adapt to autonomous mobile robots, to understand the possibilities and problems of mutual adaptation in human-robot interaction over time, and to anticipate changes in the group dynamics of collaborative work. We are examining how the presence of a robot affects the development of shared mental models, transactive memory, cohesion, and commitment in robot-assisted groups. We are also exploring how a robot’s expertise relative to the group affects group performance.

Subgroup Dynamics, Language, & Knowledge Sharing in Global Teams
2002 – current
Faculty: Pamela J. Hinds
Students: Tsedal Neeley, Aditya Johri

In previous research, we noticed that globally distributed teams often developed an “us” vs. “them” dynamic across sites. Although they are structured as interdependent work teams, distributed, technology-enabled teams frequently are composed of two or more collocated subgroups. The collocated subgroups often reflect national identities, adding an additional layer of complexity. In this work, we identify factors likely to promote and mitigate fracturing between subgroups and consider the impact of subgroup formation on task effectiveness. From our studies, we are also gaining insight into the challenges of a lingua franca in these teams and into the value of site visits.

This project involved a two-year study of collaboration in twelve internationally distributed software development teams. Data collection activities included ethnographic interviews with team members and managers, on-site observation of teams, and team performance assessments. In 189 semi-structured interviews, we explored how team members thought about their team and their experiences in the team. We also conducted twelve person weeks of “concurrent observation” of six of the distributed teams in our study. Concurrent observation of a team distributed between Germany and India, for example, meant that one member of our research team observed during a week in Germany while another member observed members of the same team located in India. Approximately one year after the observations, we also conducted a second round of on-site data collection (including team meetings and selected interviews) to get a sense of how the dynamics on these teams evolved, to ask questions about issues gleaned from our initial analysis, and to get a measure of team performance at a second point in time.

We are currently writing papers on language challenges, cross-national learning, the enduring role of site visits, and influence dynamics.

Ethical Issues in Nanotechnology Workplaces
2010 – current
Faculty: Robert E. McGinn

I am involved in a series of initiatives aimed at helping researchers enrich their thinking about ethical issues that arise in nanotechnology workplaces. For example, I’m developing an ethics module for new-user training at nanotech research labs and devising a survey of attitudes and beliefs about ethical issues in relation to nanotech on the part of undergraduates involved in nanotech research, I introduced a new graduate course (“Research Ethics for Engineers and Scientists”) that included a substantial component on ethical issues related to nanotechnology, and I am writing a periodic column on ethics and nanotechnology aimed at nanotech researchers for the NNIN website.

Flash Teams
2013 – current
Faculty: Melissa Valentine, Michael Bernstein
Students: Daniela Retelny

In this research, we introduce flash teams, a framework for dynamically assembling and managing paid experts from the crowd. Flash teams advance a vision of expert crowd work that accomplishes complex, interdependent goals such as engineering and design. These teams consist of sequences of linked modular tasks and handoffs that can be computationally managed. Interactive systems reason about and manipulate these teams’ structures: for example, flash teams can be recombined to form larger organizations and authored automatically in response to a user’s request. Flash teams can also hire more people elastically in reaction to task needs, and pipeline intermediate output to accelerate completion times. To enable flash teams, we present Foundry, an end-user authoring platform and runtime manager. Foundry allows users to author modular tasks, then manages teams through handoffs of intermediate work. We demonstrate that Foundry and flash teams enable crowdsourcing of a broad class of goals including design prototyping, course development, and film animation.

Leadership and Influence in Complex Project Networks
2013 – current
Faculty: Melissa Valentine

I am conducting a longitudinal field study of the design of an innovative new cancer center. Many different groups (IT, construction, operations, security, patient services, etc.) are working together to combine their expertise and efforts to develop this new organization. I am studying how the proposed innovative designs change and evolve as the groups interface and learn from each other.

Knowledge Worker Collaboration
2013 – current
Faculty: Melissa Valentine, Mike Lee, Brad Staats, and Francesca Gino

Organizational performance depends fundamentally on how people in the organization create and use knowledge. Collaboration is a key capability whereby people and teams in organizations develop new ideas and make use of existing best practices. Prior research has focused on collaboration that takes place in formally organized teams, but less is understood about the antecedents and outcomes related to informal collaboration as individuals carry out their own work.

In this research, we are examining who collaborates, how, and to what benefit in the context of knowledge work in a global firm.

Job Design
2013 – current
Faculty: Melissa Valentine

I am conducting a longitudinal field study of the design of a new organizational role. I am comparing the way that people enact their roles when their job is not formally designed (meaning they have considerable autonomy to define their job) and when their job is formally designed (meaning their work is highly standardized).

Minimal Boundaries and Teamwork
2013 – current
Faculty: Melissa Valentine, Bethany Gerstein, and Ethan Bernstein

Effective teamwork in health care settings is important for patient outcomes but is difficult to achieve in practice. Managers and clinicians have tried to improve teamwork through behavioral interventions and skills-based training, but recent research has suggested that team design and work design are especially promising approaches for improving teamwork, because they establish lasting conditions under which people more instinctively enact constructive teamwork behaviors. Of particular interest are the use of minimal boundaries that set up conditions conducive for teamwork (e.g., Bernstein, 2012; Valentine & Edmondson, 2014). For example, proximity is a key condition for active communication, and minimal boundaries can guide people to stand close to each other. To the extent that even minimal boundaries can quite clearly define who is co-present with whom at any given time, they can have a significant impact on mutual (i.e., synchronized) attention, emotion, and behavior. Our aim is to advance understanding of how minimal boundaries can be used to improve teamwork.