The contingent impact of contextualization on computer-mediated collaboration

Adi Katz, Dov Te'eni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Computer-mediated collaboration, a rapidly expanding form of work, introduces unique opportunities but problems as well. One of these problems is the higher risk of misunderstandings. Current communication theories suggest that misunderstanding may be reduced by contextualization, i.e., providing contextual information to explain a core message. However, we hypothesize that contextualization is beneficial in some situations but not in others. Treating contextualization as a form of adaptive behavior, we propose a model for understanding its contingent impact on performance in collaborative tasks. We explain the motivation for contextualization and argue that it can be predicted by the extent to which the perspectives of the collaborators are different or shared: A difference of perspectives between collaborators motivates them to contextualize to increase mutual understanding (MU) and thereby increase performance. Computer support should also motivate communicators to contextualize by making it easier for them to do so. A controlled experiment tests these relationships in a collaborative machine-assembly task performed by dyads. We manipulate the collaborators' perspectives and the level of computer support, and we measure contextualization behavior, MU, and performance. Results show that contextualization is effective only for dyads with different perspectives and may be detrimental when perspectives are similar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-279
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Science
Volume18
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2007

Keywords

  • Adaptive behavior
  • CMC
  • Collaboration
  • Communication complexity
  • Contextualization
  • ICT design
  • Mutual understanding
  • Organizational communication
  • Performance
  • Shared terminology

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