Impacts of Shared Work History for Distributed Project Teams
team members in the project team view
themselves as a single group, there is the
potential to reap the positive benefits of
social identity, such as group cohesion,
less conflict, and higher levels of esprit
de corps (Ashforth & Mael, 1989).
Project management is a complex activity that requires balancing resources,
needs, and constraints (Project Management Institute, 2013). As project
managers seek to meet the goals of
the project, one of the challenges in
managing a project is addressing issues
that can arise due to interpersonal challenges within project teams. Some prior
research has discussed the value of staffing project teams with members who
have a shared work history (Buvik &
Rolfsen, 2015; Maurer, 2010), this study
offers insights into potential issues that
might arise with this approach.
The purpose of this study was to use
social identity theory as a theoretical
lens to examine interactions within an
online distributed team when some, but
not all, team members have a prior relationship. This exploratory study, using
an MMORPG as a context, examined
whether a shared work history among
some of the project team members
affects project team dynamics through
the lens of social identity theory. One
contribution of this research is identifying that shared work history has
the potential to be a reason for a sub-group to form within a project team
as demonstrated in our research study.
Research has found that project workers have develop a sense of identity with
their organization and their profession
(Ellemers et al., 2004). While shared
work history is not the only trigger for
the development of social identity within
a team, this study examines the role of
this characteristic among team members
and how shared work history might be
positive or negative for members of the
in-group or out-group.
A second contribution of this
research study is the unique perspec-
tive of the impact of the formation of
social identity to an individual who is an
out-group member. Using an MMORPG
in which we could embed a confeder-
ate offered unique insights into how
groups interact from the perspective
of an outsider. We found both positive
and negative benefits of having team
members with a shared work history.
For some teams, social norms devel-
oped that encouraged teamwork or effi-
ciency, which was a positive experience
for the team. In other teams, the devel-
opment of subgroups was less positive
for out-group members. In these set-
tings, out-group team members were
excluded from conversations or had
regular reminders of being an outsider.
Finally, this study examined the
context of social identity in distributed online teams. While it is known
that social identity can develop in
distributed online teams (Goggins et al.,
2011; Laffey et al., 2006), this study is
one of few that examines social identity
in a non-educational context (Hinds
& Mortensen, 2005). Few studies have
examined social identity in the context
of distributed online teams, and this
particular study focused on a team that
only interacted in a distributed manner.
This study examined aspects of social
identity that are not as well studied
(such as the perspective of an out-group
member), and did so in a distributed
online context. This study, therefore, adds
to our knowledge of the role of social
identity in a distributed, online context.
One of the many decisions project
managers make during the project man-
agement process is staffing project teams
(Project Management Institute, 2013).
There are many factors that affect the
choice in staffing, including knowledge,
skill level, availability, and other inter-
personal factors. This study offers an
important insight into one interpersonal
dimension that can lessen or generate
conflict by considering shared work his-
tory among team members. Some prior
research examines interactions across
other project team stakeholders, such
as project managers and project spon-
sors or project managers and executives,
yet, few studies consider the interper-
sonal dynamics within project teams.
Interdependence among project team
members makes project team dynamics
ripe for additional study. Social identity
theory provides a useful theoretical lens
for such endeavors. Future studies that
focus inward on project team dynam-
ics have the potential to uncover addi-
tional issues that positively or negatively
impact project outcomes.
Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social
identity theory and the organization.
Academy of Management Review, 14( 1),
Belmi, P., Barragan, R. C., Neale, M. A.,
& Cohen, G. L. (2015). Threats of social
identity can trigger social deviance.
Personality and Social Psychology
Bulletin, 41( 4), 467–484.
Brewer, M. B., & Gardner, W. (1996).
Who is this “we?” Levels of collective
identity and self representations. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology,
71( 1), 83–93.
Buchan, A., & Taylor, J. (2016). A
qualitative exploration of factors
affecting group cohesion and team play
in multiplayer online battle arenas. The
Computer Games Journal, 1–25.
Buvik, M. P., & Rolfsen, M. (2015).
Prior ties and trust development in
project teams: A case study from the
construction industry. International
Journal of Project Management, 33( 7),
Calder, B. J., Phillips, L. W., & Tybout,
A. M. (1981). Designing research
for application. Journal of Consumer
Research, 8, 197–207.
Chidambaram, L., & Tung, L. L. (2005).
Is out of sight, out of mind? An empirical
study of social loafing in technology-supported groups. Information Systems
Research, 16( 2), 149–168.
Chiocchio, F., Forgues, D., Paradis, D.,
& Iordanova, I. (2011). Teamwork
in integrated design projects:
Understanding the effects of trust,