Multiple group coordination in complex and dynamic task environments: Interruptions, coping mechanisms, and technology recommendations

Yuqing Ren, Sara Kiesler, Susan R. Fussell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Collaboration in complex and dynamic environments such as hospitals, airlines, and disaster response teams is challenging. High performance requires smooth coordination across multiple groups whose incentives, cultures, and routines can conflict. In this paper, we present an in-depth case study of a hospital's operating room practices to understand challenges associated with multiple group coordination and how information technology may help. We use the concept of trajectory to focus our observations and interviews on workflow across groups and critical events when coordination breaks down. A careful examination of the sources, coping mechanisms, and consequences of coordination breakdowns suggests three factors whose absence may impede effective responses to unexpected interruptions: (1) trajectory awareness of what is going on beyond a person's immediate workspace, (2) information systems integration, and (3) information pooling and learning at the organizational level. We conclude with technological recommendations to promote trajectory awareness and to automate information gathering and monitoring, so as to facilitate multiple group coordination in complex and dynamic task environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-130
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Management Information Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: This research is supported by NSF ITR grant IIS 0325047. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of NSF. They thank Peter Scupelli, Suzanne Weisband, Yan xiao, three anonymous reviewers, and the attendants of their talk at HICSS 2007 for helpful comments. The authors thank the employees of the hospital studied for participating in the study and Colin Mackenzie for help with obtaining site access.


  • Collaboration
  • Coordination breakdown
  • Group boundary
  • Multiple group coordination
  • Trajectory awareness


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