Investigating the Dynamics of Open Source Software Development Teams


Research on human and social behavior is increasingly characterized by a focus on dynamics— on the evolution of formal and informal organizations over time. We propose a social science study in the context of distributed 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 distributed teams develop and work?
Increasingly, organizational work is performed by distributed teams of interdependent knowledge workers. These teams have many benefits, but the distance between members creates challenges 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 developing distributed teams.
To answer our research question, we will conduct a longitudinal in-depth study identifying and comparing the formation and evolution of distributed teams of FLOSS developers. The proposed research will be guided by an advisory board of FLOSS developers to ensure relevance and to help promote diffusion of our findings into practice. We will study how these distributed groups 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 teams. As a basis for this study, we develop a conceptual framework that uses a structurational perspective to integrate research on team behaviour, organizational learning, communities of practice and shared mental models. We will utilize qualitative data analysis of team interactions, observation and interview data to investigate these dynamics. We will also use social network analysis to study the socialization process of members and change in roles over time.