Increasingly, organizational work is performed by distributed teams of interdependent knowledge workers. Such teams have many benefits, but geographic, organizational and social distance between members makes it difficult for team members to create the shared understandings and social structures necessary to be effective. But as yet, research and practitioner communities know little about the dynamics of distributed teams, especially not self-organizing ones. We propose a multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary study (social and computer science) in the context of teams of Free/Libre Open Source (FLOSS) software developers to better understand the cognitive and social structures that underlie changes in individual and team behaviours in these teams. Our study addresses the general research question: What are the dynamics through which self-organizing distributed teams develop and work?
We will study how distributed teams develop shared mental models to guide members’ behavior, roles to mediate access to resources, and norms and rules to shape action, as well as the dynamics by which independent, geographically-dispersed individuals are socialized into these teams. As a basis for this study, we develop a conceptual framework that uses a structurational perspective to integrate research on team behaviour, communities of practice and shared mental models. A key innovation of this proposal is the integration of three methods to investigate these dynamics: natural language processing and social network analysis of team interactions and source code analysis. The work will be carried out by a multi-disciplinary team including researchers from the fields of information systems and natural language processing, and with participation of an international collaborator at Politechnic of Bari. The research will be guided by an advisory board of FLOSS developers to ensure relevance and to promote diffusion of our findings into practice.