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Killer Apps: Or how technology may fundamentally change the work of teams

While Australia is known to house one the deadliest killers on this planet, the researchers from our centre are also interested in "killer technology" – more specifically, how it can be used to fundamentally change the nature of collaborative team work.

As part of a special issue in the journal Small Group Research (SGR), Buengeler, Klonek, Lehmann-Willenbrock, Morency, & Poppe (in press) discuss how "Killer Apps" could fundamentally improve the way that teams work together.

In contrast to the white shark killer that sometimes visits us here in Australia while we are trying to enjoy a bath along the coast, a killer app is "an extremely valuable or useful computer program; a computer application of such great value or popularity that it assures the success of the technology with which it is associated; a feature or component that in itself makes something worth having or using” (Merriam-Webster, 2016).

The article in the SGR-special issue presents how team work may benefit from "killer apps". To illustrate the implications, the authors focus on four areas of team work: Organizational meetings, surgical teams, HR team design, and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Organizational meetings could be optimized by killer apps to improve communication among team members. Killer apps may also optimize surgical team coordination and ultimately be beneficial for patient safety. Killer apps could help to improve team design and team composition in HR management systems and also online team collaboration in distributed massive open online courses (MOOCs).

While the authors develop several arguments how these “deadly” apps could help to bring forward team interactions, communication and coordination within these specific settings, they also stress that this type of technology can only be developed by extensive collaboration between different fields: In particular, they emphasize how mutual work efforts need to be integrated by "groupies" (i.e., social researchers, psychologists, management researchers), on the one hand, and "geeks" (i.e., computer scientists, programmers, technology researchers), on the other hand.

Since the author team were themselves composed almost fifty-fifty by geeks and groupies, they were the first ones to face the challenge but also the joy of interdisciplinary team work (another article in the SGR special issue provides more detail on the interdisciplinary challenges).

The authors also discuss potential consequences of killer apps for workers from a work design perspective. For example, killer apps may actually increase work demands, cognitive load, and job complexity of team leaders who "in addition to being involved in the meeting (...), would simultaneously need to monitor and process the information from the killer app" (p., 25).

Another question is whether the constant job feedback that these apps may provide for teams creates anxiety or withdrawal as team members may not want to be monitored constantly.

For more information on this topic, see our research project on the team pulse app.

You can find the online version of the article or feel free to contact one of our postdocs who was involved in this exciting collaboration.

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