Young Investigator Award to Support Research on Team Decision-Making

September 5, 2014

More and more organizations rely on teamwork and collaboration to make decisions and solve problems. But what does it take to make a successful team? And how can organizations help these teams make better decisions?

These are some of the questions Assistant Professor Christoph Riedl will consider as he explores collaborative decision-making and related social network processes. A member of both Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) and D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Riedl has received a Young Investigator Award from the Army Research Office to support this research over the next three years. The prestigious award recognizes early-career faculty whose research shows exceptional promise.

“For me, this award is very important because it will allow me to start building a lab and develop my career as a principal investigator around the role that social networks play in collaboration and decision-making,” says Riedl, who joined the Northeastern faculty in 2013 and has research interests in data analytics and computational social science. “My new project will be an extension of the research I’ve been doing on crowd sourcing and team-based online competitions.”

Riedl will focus on how to improve decision-making in teams. One aspect of his research will look at tradeoffs between the levels of collaboration and competition in teams. Riedl explains, “Teams can be organized to encourage collaboration or competition. Collaboration allows the combining of skills and knowledge to develop effective solutions, but competition promotes efficient allocation of resources. People can work in parallel and explore different approaches simultaneously. Competition is also an important incentive mechanism, so people may exert more effort. This could lead to higher quality solutions.”

A second aspect of his research will look at the formation of teams. Riedl explains that collaborators increasingly work online and on a global scale, and they often organize into teams themselves rather than being assigned by someone else. He plans to study the ability of groups working on open source projects and online platforms such as Wikipedia to form their own teams and how the distribution of members’ skills may influence a team’s composition.

“Most prior research has looked at how teams function once members are assigned, but we know surprisingly little about the processes that govern formation of teams in the first place,” Riedl says.

He also notes that the ability for groups to organize themselves into teams may depend on many factors, including the type of task and the team’s goal. Riedl explains, “Usually goals are performance oriented, but sometimes they’re not. If the goal is to learn new skills, it could be beneficial to include both beginners and experienced people on a team.”

Like his Northeastern faculty appointment, Riedl’s approach to this research will involve multiple disciplines. It will incorporate social and behavioral science experiments, using the online Volunteer Science platform developed in the lab of Professor of Computer Science and Political Science David Lazer. Riedl will combine this approach with agent-based modeling to study additional variations through computer simulation.

“Through the combination of running experiments on the online platform and using computer simulation, it is my hope that I can contribute by integrating theories that have been proposed about team decision-making and look at joint effects rather than individual aspects,” Riedl says.