The reading first compares differences and similarities between electronic and face-to-face group dynamics. Later, it presents the difficulties found by group members while trying to be productive and finally it discusses the potential of groupware technologies to help resolve problems and support collaborative work. The research presented by the authors was done using an experimental methodology, however, in the given chapters this is not especifiedwith enough detail. The following are the most salient points of the chapters:
1. Dynamics of meetings:
Face-to-face groups: predictable and similar across groups
Electronic groups: less predictable
Face-to-face groups: high status members dominate
Electronic groups: Face-to-face groups: high status members dominate
3. Reaching consensus:
Face-to-face groups: conformity and convergence allow for faster reach of consensus
Electronic groups: shifts to extreme positions (emotions) makes harder to get consensus
4. Making decisions:
Face-to-face groups: conventional decisions
Electronic groups: unconventional riskier decisions
The authors make general claims without situating their experiments in a specific culture and organization. They are lacking, at least in the assigned chapters, an ethnographic study of the communication happening in the analyzed groups (Saville-Troike). For example, in page 59 they say : Group members spend too much time listening to each other instead of thinking. They try to hard to please one anotherÓ.
This claim does not extend to all the group members of the world. For example, in Latin America, more concretely in the working and university groups I participated in Argentina, group members do not try to please each other but to show a thoughtful critique to the otherÕs point of view. Pleasing each other is very much an American interaction style.
In page 61 the authors state Òbecause it is harder to read status cues in electronic messages than it is in other forms of communication, high status people do not dominate the discussion in electronic groups as much as they do in face-to-face groups.Ó Electronic messages have a header and a signature and it is very easy to see who sends which message. It is a little naive to think that social dynamics can be changed by using a different media. In my experience I have seen that a message sent by a professor requesting help or advise or giving an opinion, receives much more responses than a similar one posted by a student. I havenÕt done an experiment so I canÕt probe it, but this came to my mind as I was reading the chapter.
Computer based tools to support cooperative work need to be designed having in mind a particular group or organization dynamics. Otherwise, it would feel as an attempt to change interaction styles and may be rejected by the most important people: the users. Groupware is only effective when it is used. In some cases, in which groups work in different places and times, groupware might be the only solution and the technology has the most leverage. However, interesting applications can be developed for groups that share same time and same place and find that they are not reaching enough results. Groupware to augment face-to-face interactions can include the exchange of information before the meeting, the follow up after the meeting, personalized ways of contextualizing the information on real-time and collaborative ways of keeping records and make explicit, through visualization techniques, the decision making process.