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A Theory of Task/Technology Fit and Group Support Systems Effectiveness Author(s): Ilze Zigurs and Bonnie

A Theory of Task/Technology Fit and Group Support Systems Effectiveness Author(s): Ilze Zigurs and Bonnie K. Buckland Reviewed work(s):

Source: MIS Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 313-334 Published by: Management Information Systems Research Center, University of Minnesota

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A

Theory

of

Fit

Task/Technology

and

Group

Support

Systems

Effectiveness1

By: lize Zigurs University of Colorado, Boulder College of Business and Administration Campus Box 419 Boulder, CO80309-0419 U.S.A. zigurs@colorado.edu

Bonnie K. Buckland Great Plains Regional MedicalCenter P.O. Box 1167 North Platte, NE69103-1167 U.S.A. buckland@ ns.nque.com

Abstract

The characteristics of a

group's task have

been shown to account formore than half the variationin group interaction.In the context of

group supportsystems (GSS), the importance

of task has been

mendation that achieving a fit

and

tive GSS

port systems research has

years,

technologies now exists, no generally accept-

ed theory of task/technology

underscored by the recom-

between task

technology should be a principle foreffec-

use. Although the body of groupsup-

grown in recent

and experience withdifferenttasks and

fit has

emerged.

of task/technolo-

of task/technolo-

paper develops a theory

This

gy fitin GSS environmentsbased on attributes

1RobertZmudwas the accepting senioreditorforthis paper.

GSS Task/Technology Fit

of task complexity and their relationship to rel-

evant

Propositions to guide further research are

developed fromthe theory.

dimensions

of

GSS

technology.

Keywords: Groupsupportsystems, electronic meeting systems, grouptasks, task com- plexity

ISRL Categories:

AA09, AC0402, DB05,

DC02,HA0301,HA1101,IB03

Introduction

The study of task has a long history, both in the organizational literature (Drazin and Van de Ven 1985; Perrow1967; Thompson 1967)

and from a group process

McGrath 1984). Many schol-

that the

natureof the task plays an important role in a

ars of group behavior have

(Hackman1968;

perspective

argued

group's interaction process and performance

(Poole et al. 1985; Shaw 1981). The advent of computer-basedgroupsupportsystems (GSS)

environmentin whichto study

provides a new

Specifically, the

interactionof

is a potent area of study

for enhancinggroupperformance.

Inthe GSS literature,early conceptualpapers emphasized the importance of tasks (DeSanctis and Gallupe 1987; Huber 1984) and brought into the GSS mainstreama task classification scheme that has been

used

circumplex

McGrath 1984). McGrath'stask

has had a significantimpact on the GSS field, and subsequent frameworksforGSS research

have

possibilities

the role and nature of task.

group tasks withGSS

that has

technology

widely

(Hollingshead

and McGrath 1995;

included task as an important variable Benbasat and Lim 1993; Nunamakeret

developments

(e.g.,

DeSanctis

(e.g.,

al. 1991). Recent theoretical

have gone beyond the frameworksand triedto

account for complexities such as

change and

Poole 1994; McGrathand

and task plays an importantpart inthese theo-

ries as well.

Hollingshead1994)

and

adaptation over time

MIS Quarterly/September 1998 313

GSS Task/Technology Fit

Butwhat do we really knowaboutthe relation-

between group tasks and GSS technolo-

ship

gy? Can we specify

task and GSS

group performance? Recent reviews and meta-analyses of GSS research have addressed these issues to some extent. In some cases, GSS was found to be more

appropriate for complex rather than simple tasks (Dennis and Gallupe 1993; Dennis et

al.1990b),

appropriate for less complex tasks and single-

solution tasks (Benbasat and Lim 1993). For

idea-generationtasks, GSS-supportedgroups performed better or no worse than non-sup- ported groups (Dennis and Gallupe 1993;

Dennis

McGrath 1995). For negotiation and correct-

answer tasks, however, GSS groups per- formed worse (Hollingshead and McGrath

1995). These findings are equivocal and reveal

that a considerable

enhancing our knowledge of the task-related

circumstances underwhich GSS can be used most effectively.

The opportunity

even though

useful and widely-used,

al different ways to definetask. Alternatedefin-

itions or categorizations need to be examined to determine whether they provide greater

leverage for matching

Second, of the many

task has been described, complexityappears often in GSS research yet has rarely been

defined much less consistently used. A more

in-depth examination of task and GSS technology

new

not well

often implied

tualizationof

important

to

althoughgeneral

groups

tion

tasks and

particular combinationsof

technology that will enhance

while in others, GSS was more

et

al.

1990b;

Hollingshead

and

opportunity exists for

lies in several areas. First,

McGrath's circumplex is both

it is only one of sever-

task to technology.

characteristics by which

complexity's role in

issues

may provide

fit itself is

insights. Third, the concept of

developed

in GSS research and more

than defined. Since the concep-

fit is related to subsequent data

is

analyses

(Venkatraman1989), it

define fit explicitly in GSS contexts. Finally,

frameworksfor the

study

of

and GSS have made a usefulcontribu-

by cataloguing

characteristics of both

technology, a detailed scheme for

those characteristics

missing.

Such a

scheme could provide a

structure within which to conduct

measuring and applying

is still

consistent

314 MIS Quarterly/September 1998

and comparestudies, as well as a foundation for futureevolutionof technology design and

use.

Given these opportunities, the purpose of this

paper is to develop a theory of task/technology

fit in GSS

enhance and supplement current knowledge. The theory fillsa current gap by first separately definingtask, GSS technology, and fit. Task/ technology fit is then defined as ideal profiles of task/technologyalignment, and propositions are presented for predicting GSS effectiveness and thereforeenhanced groupperformance in

a GSS environment.The theory is determinis-

tic to the extent that it prescribesexpectations about performance, based on characteristics

of task and technology.However,the theory is

seen as being embedded in the larger context of human actors, technology, and institutional

properties, where technology is only one of many elements of social contextthat influence patterns of action (Barley1986; McGrathet al.

environments

that serves

to

1993;

Orlikowski 1992). Thus the theory co-

exists

usefully with the "softdeterminism"of

social construction perspectives

technology as

phenomenon (Barley 1986). Ideal profiles of task/technology fitcan be viewed as consistent

withthe perspective of a "taxonomy of scripts" that describe episodes of structuring behavior

leading to differencesin technological effects.

Those episodes

profiles in this paper since

accountforthe strategic role of humanactors,

butthe theorypresented here is a ing point thatcan be viewed as an

of the complex totality of human and techno- logical interaction duringgroup work.

"inner layer"

that view

bothan

objective and emergent

are larger in scope than the

the episodes

useful start-

Task

Defining task

The theory is not intended to encompass all tasks, but to focus on the kinds of tasks that are typically encountered in organizational

decision

makinggroups. Table 1 summarizes

a select group of relevanttask classifications thathave been put forwardsince 1950.

These classification

among tasks in various tives are summarizedas

schemes

distinguish

ways. These perspec-

of

belonging to one

GSS Task/Technology Fit

four conceptualizations of task: (1) task as behavior description,(2) task as abilityrequire- ments, (3) task qua task, and (4) task as behavior requirements(Hackman1969). The argument,accepted here, is that the firstand second perspectives are not helpful for

Table 1. Examples of Task Classifications

Author(s) Carter,Haythorn, and Howell (1950)

Classification Group activities

Basis

Task Categories Clerical,discussion, intellectual construction,mechanical assembly, motor coordination,reasoning Simple vs. complex Easy vs. difficult

Production,discussion,problem

solving

Discussion,decision,performance

Unitary vs. divisible,maximizing vs. optimizing,prescribedprocess vs.

permitted process

(disjunctive,

Shaw (1954) Complexity

Bass, Pryer,Gaier, and Flint (1958) Hackman (1968)

Difficulty

Behavior requirements of

intellectivetasks that yield

written products

Behavior requirements of intellectivetasks

Unitary tasks ultimately classified

O'Neilland Alexander

(1971)

Steiner (1972)

intoone

of how membercontributions

are permittedto be combined conjunctive,additive, discretionary) to produce the single final product Six non-exclusivecontinua Difficulty, solution multiplicity, intrinsic

interest,cooperationrequirements, populationfamiliarity, intellectual- manipulativerequirements Amongcooperativegroups:

intellectivevs.

competitive or

two-person, two-choicetasks vs. bargaining and negotiation vs. coalition formation

Difficulty,variability,interdependence

Group member

task performanceprocesses

of four types on basis

Shaw (1973)

Davis, Laughlin, and Komorita (1976)

Laughlin(1980)

Poole (1978)

McGrath (1984)

relationships and

decision;among mixed-motive groups:

Dimensionsof tasks at the work- unitlevel

Whatthe group or individual

is to do; presented as a

"circumplex," a

intofour quadrants withtwo

categories ineach quadrant

Generate

choose (intellective vs. decision

making);negotiate(cognitive conflict

motive); execute (contests/ performances/

vs. mixed

battlesvs.

psychomotor)

Simple,decision,judgment,problem,

fuzzy

(planning vs. creativity);

circledivided

Campbell(1988)

Variouscombinationsof four basic complexity attributes

MIS Quarterly/September 1998

315

GSS Task/Technology Fit

advancing

not an instructive

approach because task is defined by whatever

the group members

words, this approach defines the independent variable (task) in terms of the dependent vari- able (groupperformance) ratherthan in terms of properties of the independent variableitself.

Task as abilityrequirementssimilarly fails to define a task in terms of its own properties. Instead, this perspective uses "relatively enduringaspects of the performer"(Hackman, 1969, p. 111) to describe tasks. The two remainingapproaches to definingtask, howev- er, deserve furtherattention.

research about group tasks. Task

as behavior description is

actually do. In other

The task qua task approach

aspects of the actual task materials that are

presented to the group(Hackman1969). Inthe literatureon task qua task, many studies have focused on task complexity as the characteris-

tic of

tion between analyzable and unanalyzable

problems

based on their complexity (Perrow

focuses

on

greatest interest, for instance, differentia-

1967). Task complexity has been defined as

(1) coordina-

tive

sequences

products),(2) componentcomplexity(the ber of distinctacts and the numberof distinct informationcues involvedin the task), and (3)

dynamic complexity (the stability of the rela-

tionships

(Wood

complexity and buildson these earlierideas by

definingcomplexity in terms of solution paths and their relationship to outcomes (Campbell 1988). That research relates task complexity "directly to the task attributes that increase

information load, diversity,

(Campbell1988, p. 43)

this allows

pendent of the person performing the task.

The final view-of

task as behavior require-

ments-also

provides fruitful ground for group

consisting of three components:

complexity

(the number of non-linear

and task

num-

between components

inputs and the product)

1986). Otherresearch focuses on task

between

or rate of change"

and furtherstates that

to be determinedinde-

complexity

research. Because

from task to task, it is

requirements can legitimately be viewed as

characteristicsof tasks (rather than character-

istics of the performer)"(Hackman

111). McGrath'stask circumplex is based on

required behaviors vary

argued that "behavior

1969, p.

316 MIS Quarterly/September 1998

task as behavior requirements to the extent that each task is categorized by its objective, i.e., whatthe group membersare supposed to do to accomplish the task, for example, a cre- ativity task requires generation of ideas. However, behavior requirements for a task includenot only whatmustbe accomplished to meet stated goals, buthow those goals should be accomplished,i.e., the processes by which the task should be carried out (Hackman 1969). The stimulus set for any given task (whether experimental or not, and whether explicit or not) includes physical materialsand instructions, with the instructions having "the functionof eliciting the mediatingprocesses for problemsolving"(Gagne 1966, p. 135).

The final view of task complexity integrates these two conceptualizations of task: the task qua task approach and the task as behavior requirements approach (Campbell 1988). Whileit focuses on characteristicsof the task as presented to the group, it simultaneously acknowledges thatthose characteristicsdefine bothwhat is to be accomplished and how it is to be accomplished. Thus, a group task is defined here as the behaviorrequirementsfor accomplishing stated goals, via some process, usinggiven information.

This definitionof group task focuses on stated

goals, that is, on the problem as it is presented

to the group. If a

goals and tries to redefinethe task according

to some privateagenda, or if a groupsupport system imposes structureon the task to the extent that the task is modifiedto fit the tools or agenda enforced by the GSS, it is possible that the assigned task may not be the one actually performedby the group. Indeed, the potentiallychanging natureof the task is a key

part of structurational perspectives

1986; DeSanctis and Poole 1994). This focus

on the assigned

mits reliable

termsthat allow comparison withinand across studies. Such a view is not a barrierto assess- ing tasks over time as they are redefined

throughgroup interaction.

group member has hidden

(Barley

task is an initial step that per-

description of tasks in objective

Definingunique taskenvironments

The task definition presented in this paper is an extension and refinementof earlier descrip- tions (Campbell1988; Wood 1986) and focus- es on the central importance of task complexi-

ty.

that has

efforts at task classification

focused

one of several important task characteristics

(e.g., Bass et al. 1958; Campbell1988; Herold 1978; Perrow 1967; Poole 1978; Shaw 1954, 1973). Task complexity has also been an importantpart of analyses of the GSS litera- ture (Dennis and Gallupe 1993; Dennis et al. 1990b; Gray et al.1990; Pinsonneault and

Kraemer 1989).

both process and outcomes of

mance. Thus, complexity plays a key role in

differentiating distincttask environments.

Complexity is the one characteristicof task

been studied the most.

Many prior

have either

directly on complexity or includeditas

Finally,complexity relates to

task perfor-

As noted earlier, task complexity is related "directly to the task attributes that increase information load, diversity, or rate of change"

(Campbell1988, p. 43).

of these three information processing factors

indicate the level of the

placed on the person performing the task. A

complex task, then, places

demands on the task performer.

The

defined via four dimensions

each of which is

important in definingunique

task environments.The firstdimensionis out-

multiplicity. Outcome multiplicity means thatthere is morethan one desiredoutcomeof

come

In addition, the levels

cognitive

demands

high cognitive

complexity

level of a task has been

(Campbell1988),

a task. This is

information load and information

important because it increases

diversity. Each outcome requires a separate information

processing stream and is essentially a criterion against whicha potential solutionis evaluated.

An example of a task withoutcome multiplicity

is one where there is more than one stake-

holder and each stakeholder has different

explicitexpectations about whatthe objectives

of the task are, e.g., selecting a family home

froma set of alternativesbased on

specific features (forexample, accommodation

of

work,proximity to good schools, etc. Note that

price,size,

a handicappedfamilymember),proximity to

GSS Task/TechnologyFit

it does not matterwho is completing this task;

its outcome

task performers.

The second dimensioncan be called solution scheme multiplicity. Solutionscheme multiplici- ty means thatthere is morethan one possible course of action to attaina goal. This dimen- sion of the task increases informationload. The term"solution path" has been used forthis idea (Campbell1988). The term used in this paper has the same meaning but is clearer in distinguishing a solution path from a process path. If, for example, there are alternative ways to reach a goal, and those alternatives can be specified using a decision tree, this shows the presence of multiple solution schemes in that manyconfigurations of a final

solution are possible

branchesof the decision tree are chosen. The

idea of having to configure a set of elements in

reaching a decision also helps to clarify

meaning of multiple solutionschemes. Ifa task

involves the explicit consideration of

mentation issues, then it becomes more com-

plex in terms of configuring various elements;

such a task

Solutionscheme

tion load because one must consider

elements and theirbest configuration. In con-

trast,simplychoosing one item from

given set

gle solutionscheme. A

saw puzzle, and employee scheduling are all

examples of tasks withsolutionscheme multi-

plicity.Again, it does not matterwho is com-

pleting the task, as the existence of

solutionschemes is inherentinthe task.

The

dence.

among solutionschemes

scheme conflictswith

ble solutionscheme. Inthis case, the adoption

of any one scheme ation such that the

simplychange their minds,undothat

and returnto essentially

presented in the original task to make a new

decision. Conflicting interdependence also

exists in cases where outcomes are in conflict

with one another, e.g., the classic quantity

multiplicity is unaffected by the

depending

on which

the

imple-

has solution scheme multiplicity.

multiplicity increases informa-

multiple

game of chess, a jig-

multiple

among a

of alternativesis an example of a sin-

thirddimension is conflictinginterdepen-

Conflictinginterdependencemay exist

where adopting one

adopting another possi-

substantially altersthe situ-

decision makers cannot

adoption,

the same conditions

MIS Quarterly/September1998 317

GSS Task/Technology Fit

versus

where informationis in conflict, for example, in

intelligencereports fromvarioussources.

The fourthand final dimension can be called

solution scheme/outcome

quality problem. Finally,

it may exist

uncertainty

outcome.

and is

defined as the extent to which there is uncer-

tainty about whether a given solutionscheme

will lead to a desired

scheme/outcome uncertainty can range from

low to high, where high means that the rela-

tionship between a solution scheme and the desired outcome is uncertainor highlyproba-

bilistic (Campbell 1988). Many factors can enter into a determinationof the level of solu-

tion scheme/outcome

is increased in tasks where outcomes are not explicit, where the scope of the problem is large, where there is little useful historical informationabout solving a particularproblem, or where outcomes are difficultto measure. Uncertainty is decreased, for example, intasks where the task instructionsdo not require the task performer to explicitly consider the impli- cations of implementation.

It has been noted that other characteristics

Solution

uncertainty.Uncertainty

such as lack of difficulty, can be

associated with complexity,

structure, ambiguity, and

seen as consequences of the fourbasic com- plexity attributes outlined above (Campbell 1988). If a task has one or more of the four

basic attributes, it is also likely to possess one

or more of

it is likely to be ill-structured, ambiguous, and/or difficult). On the other hand, a task may be experienced as ill-structured,ambiguous, or

the associated characteristics (i.e.,

difficult"forreasons that are independent

of

the basic characteristics of the task itself"

(Campbell1988, p. 45). For example, writing a

piece of software to solve a

easy for veteran programmers but difficultfor novices, even though the basic characteristics

of the task are unchanged.

Differentcombinationsof the fourbasic dimen-

sions of complexity would result in 16 distinct

task

ed intofive task categories based on similari-

ties in the presence or absence

basic complexity attributes (Campbell 1988).

These five task categories are shown in Table

definedinterms of primary

2. Each category is

attributes that contribute to its

Simple tasks are primarily characterized

single outcome and solution scheme, problem tasks by solutionscheme multiplicity, decision

tasks

by conflictinginterdependence or uncertainty,

and fuzzy tasks primarilyby the jointpresence

of outcome multiplicity and solution scheme

multiplicity.

problemmay

be

environments, whichhave been aggregat-

of the four

complexity.

by

a

by

outcome multiplicity,judgment tasks

GSS Technology

Defining GSS technology

Groupsupportsystems have been defined as systems that combine communication, com- puter, and decision technologies to support problem formulation and solution in group

Table 2. Aggregated Task Categories (Adapted From Campbell 1988)

Outcome Multiplicity SolutionScheme Multiplicity Conflicting Interdependence SolutionScheme/

I Outcome Uncertainty

Simple

Problem

Decision

Judgment

Fuzzy

Tasks

Tasks

Tasks

Tasks

Tasks

no

no

yes

no

yes

no

yes

no

no

yes

no

yes or no

yes or no

yes or no

yes or no

not

lowto

lowto

lowto

lowto

applicable

high

high

high

high

318 MIS Quarterly/September 1998

meetings (DeSanctis and Gallupe 1987); as information-basedenvironmentsthat support groupmeetings and includebutare not limited to distributed facilities,computer hardwareand software, audio and video technology, proce- dures, methodologies, facilitation, and group data (Dennis et al.1988); and as the collective of computer-assistedtechnologies used to aid

groups

opportunities, and issues (Huber et al. 1993). This is only a sample of definitionsof GSS, but

common elements are evident, and the defini- tions tend to be all-inclusive rather than restrictive.

Classificationschemes for group supportsys- tems are as abundant as definitions of the technology. Table 3 shows examples of GSS

technology

name explicit categories

McGrath and Hollingshead 1994), but the

majority of authors describe the

terms of dimensions, each of which typically is defined by more detailed attributes (e.g.,

Fjermestad,forthcoming).

in

identifying and addressingproblems,

classifications.

of

Some authors

systems (e.g.,

technology in

can be char-

acterized from many different perspectives, ranging from relatively broad functionalcate-

gories, to more detailed tool-based descrip- tions, to configurations defined by time and space. However, three common themes are

evident:

for

and for information pro-

of the hardwareor physi-

cal configuration of a system,

themes are the distinguishing characteristicsof

process structuring, cessing. Regardless

As Table3 shows, the technology

support for communication,

these three

GSS that are used the most often inthe classi- ficationsshown in Table 3 and that have been

research. They are

studied the most in

of

also consistent with the major

advanced technologies identifiedin prior theo- ry: communication, decisional, and informa-

tional properties (Huber 1990). Therefore,

group support systems technology

as

information processing tools thatare

to

ment of

relates to communicationneeds of the group

(e.g., input,feedback, and displaycapabilities,

as well as time and space

tasks. Communication support

prior

properties

is defined

a set

of

communication, structuring, and

designed

work together to support the accomplish-

group

configuration);

GSS Task/TechnologyFit

structuring support relates to setting up a process by which groups interact (e.g., provid- ing or enforcing agendas); and information processing relates to manipulating and struc- turing information (e.g., aggregating, evaluat- ing, or structuringinformation).

As with task, the potential

designer intentionsforGSS and how it is actu-

ally used is

ogy means that it is enacted by humanactors

as well as institutionalized in structure (Orlikowski1992). Research has shown how

GSS technology can be used

fer from the original spirit of the designers (DeSanctis and Poole 1994). Again, however, it is only the intended system features and

tools thatcan be reliably described objectively, and hence the focus is on the intended sys- tem. However, as the technology is adapted

through

reassessed via the characterizationscheme.

gap between

recognized. The duality of technol-

in ways that dif-

group

use,

its

nature

can

be

Definingunique GSS technology environments

Each of the three dimensionsfromthe defini-

tion

Communication support can be defined as

any aspect of the technology that supports,

capability of group

members to communicate with each other.

It includes such elements as simultaneous

input,anonymous input, inputfeedback, and

individual messag-

a groupdisplay.Group and ing can be considered

display. The

sion also includes the

of communication channels, since that con-

figuration

communicate.

Process

part of input and

enhances, or defines the

of

GSS

can

be

defined

further.

communication support dimen-

physical configuration

defines how group members can

structuring is any aspect of the tech-

nology that supports,enhances, or defines the

process by which

capabilities for agenda

creating a com-

plete record of group interaction

the agenda, all the input, the votes, and so on). Information processing is the capability to

enforcement,facilitation,and

groups interact, including

setting,

agenda

(via storing

MIS Quarterly/September1998 319

GSS Task/Technology Fit

Table 3. Examples of GSS Technology Classifications

Author(s)

DeSanctis and

Gallupe(1987)

Pinsonneaultand

Kraemer (1989)

Classification Basis

Group size and proximity;

patternsof information

exchange Type of aid providedby the system

Dennis,George, Groupprocess

Jessup,

Nunamaker, and

Vogel (1988)

Nunamaker,

Dennis,

Valacich,Vogel,

and George (1991)

Johansen (1992)

and

outcomes, methods, and

environment

Process support,process structure, task support, and task structure

Timeand space

configuration

DeSanctis and

Poole (1994)

Structuralfeaturesand spirit of technology

DeSanctis, Snyder, and Poole

(1994)

McGrathand

Hollingshead

(1994)

Vickers (1994)

Rana,Turoff, and

Hiltz (1997)

Fjermestad

(forthcoming)

Interface,functionality, and holisticattributes

Primary functionof system (communication, information, ortask support) Extentto whichend users can controland/or modify system

Componentparts of system,

or absence of

i.e., presence

genericsupport features

Communicationmode,

design,

and

process structures,

task support

320

MIS Quarterly/September 1998

GSS Technology Categories

Decision room,legislativesession, local decision network,computer-mediated

conference; level 1, level 2,

Group decision supportsystems, group communication supportsystems

Overall categories

of classificationbasis is furtherdescribed

(e.g., environmentincludes groupsize,

participantlocation, and timing of meeting)

Overall categories

of classificationbasis is furtherdescribed

(e.g., process support includes parallel communication,groupmemory, and anonymity) Same-time/same-place, same- time/ different-place, different-time/ different-place,different-time/same-place

Overall categories

elementof classificationbasis is

characterized by scalable dimensions (e.g.,

spirit consists of decision process,

leadership,efficiency,etc.)

Overall categories

element of classificationbasis is further

described (e.g., functionality includes public display,anonymousvoting,private messaging, etc.) Group internalcommunicationsupportsystem, group information supportsystem,

group

system, groupperformancesupportsystem Closed, closed/open, open/closed, open

level 3

are not defined; each element

are not defined; each element

are notdefined; each

are notdefined; each

externalcommunicationsupport

Individual support,groupprocess support, meta process support,group modelsupport

Overall categories

elementof classificationbasis is further

described (e.g., communicationmode might be voice, text,video, etc.)

are notdefined; each

gather, share, aggregate, structure, or evalu- ate information, including specialized tem-

plates such as stakeholder

tribute utilityanalysis. It should be noted that

templates that structure the problem may

may

view possible solutions in terms of how they

structuredorviewed the problem.

Table 4 shows these three dimensions and examples of elements of each dimension, drawn from what is commonly provided in

An actual

GSS

implementationtypically combines sever-

existing group support systems.

shape solutions as well, since people

analysis

or multiat-

al elements and dimensions together,although

a specific tool withinthat GSS may focus on a

single element or dimension. For

both Topic Commenter and the electronic brainstorming tool in GroupSystems (Nunamaker et al. 1991) would be character- ized as communication support tools, while GroupSystems' voting tool would focus on information processing support. The informa-

tion processing dimension in particularmight

be implemented via a

instance, the element of structureinformation

could be provided via stakeholder analysis,

example,

variety

of tools. For

GSS Task/Technology Fit

multiattribute utilityanalysis, a decision tree, and so on. In addition,where this element is present, it typically includesthe otherelements

of

mation.A

multiattribute utilitytool,for instance,

gathering,aggregating, and evaluating infor-

will typically includethe otherelerents as part

of the steps for carrying outthe analysis.

The second generation of SAMM (Sambamurthy and DeSanctis 1990) is a good example of how a specific GSS combines vari- ous tools, each of which support different dimensions. SAMM2 includes modules for

allocation, stakeholder

tribute utilityanalysis, as well as the ability to

gather, aggregate and evaluate information,

thus ratinghigh on the

analysis, and multiat-

information processing

dimension. SAMM2 also includes simultane- ous input,anonymous input, inputfeedback, and groupdisplay, thus ratinghigh on commu- nication support.However, this particular GSS is very flexibleas to agenda configuration and

facilitation options, thus ratingrelatively low on

process structuring. This example

importance of looking at a GSS's different tools and how they are used in orderto assess

the technology's dimensions.

shows the

Table 4. Examples of Elements for the Dimensions of GSS Technology

Dimension Communication Support

Process Structuring

Information Processing

Examples of Elements

*

Simultaneous input

Input feedback

* Anonymousinput

*

* Groupdisplay

* Physicalconfiguration of communicationchannels (e.g., synchronous or asynchronous,proximate or dispersed)

* Agendasetting

*

e Facilitation

* Complete recordof group interaction

* Gatherinformation

* Aggregate
*

* Structureinformation (e.g.,

Agenda enforcement

information

Evaluateinformation

allocation,stakeholder analysis, multiat-

tribute utilityanalysis,cross-impactanalysis)

MIS Quarterly/September 1998

321

GSS Task/Technology Fit

Fit

Defining fit

Although the termfitis

of models

variables, its precise natureand meaning are

rarely stated (Joyce et al. 1982). One excep- tion to this lack of clarity is the strategic man- agement literature, where fit (typically between

strategy and structure) has been examined in

some detail. Differentdefinitionsof fit in three

distinct approaches to structural contingency

that deal with contingencies among

widely used in a variety

theory have been identified:fitas congruence,

fitas

internal consistency

(Drazin and Van de Ven 1985). These ideas

were extended to

tives on fitin the strategy literature:fitas mod-

eration, as mediation, as matching, as

gestalts, as profiledeviation, and as covaria-

tion

vary intheir degree of

ical relationship between variables, inthe num- ber of variablesin the fit relationships, and in

whetherthe

ticularcriterionvariable.Table 5 summarizes

concept of fitis anchoredto a par-

specificity of the theoret-

(Venkatraman1989). These perspectives

interaction, and fitas

identify six unique perspec-

the six perspectives on fit.

Table 5. Perspectives on Fit (From Venkatraman 1989)

Perspective

1. Fitas

matching

2.

3.

Fitas

covariation

Fitas

gestalts

4. Fitas

moderation

5. Fitas

mediation

6. Fitas profile

deviation

Underlying

Conceptualization

Matching

Internal

consistency

Internal

congruence

Interaction

Intervention

Adherence

to a

specified

profile

322 MIS Quarterly/September 1998

Description

A matchbetweentwo

theoretically relatedvariablesis defined, withoutreferenceto a

criterionvariable.

A pattern of covariationor

internal consistencyamong a set

of

variablesis defined, without referenceto a criterionvariable.

Gestaltsare definedinterms of the degree of internalcoher- ence among a set of theoretical attributes,involvingmany

with.

referenceto a criterionvariable

The

variables, butnot specified

underlyingtheoretically related

impact thata predictor

variablehas on a criterionvari-

able is dependent on the level

of a thirdvariable,whichis

the moderator.

A

mechanism (i.e., an indirect

effect) exists between an

antecedentvariable andthe consequent variable.

A

variablesis specified and

relatedto a criterionvariable.

significantintervening

profile of theoretically related

Example Proposition (From Venkatraman)

The matchbetween and structure

strategy enhances administrative

efficiency.

The degree of internal

consistency in resource

allocationshas a significant effect on performance.

The natureof internal

congruenceamong a set

of

differsacross high and

low performing firms.

strategic variables

The interactiveeffects of strategy and managerial characteristicshave implications for performance. Marketshare is a key intervening variable between strategy and performance.

The degree of adherence to a specifiedprofile has a significant effect on performance.

The firstthree conceptualizations of fit are cri- terion-free (Venkatraman1989), i.e., they have universal applicability and are not anchoredto any particulardependent variable, such as effectiveness. Since the desire in this paper is

fit to effective perfor-

to tie task

mance of groups, these three conceptualiza- tions are not suitable (Nidumolu1996). The fourthand fifth conceptualizations are limited in the numberof variables considered, that is,

they are typically used in an association between a single predictorvariable, a single

moderating or interveningvariable, and a sin- gle dependent variable. The most promising

perspective for task/technology contextis the idea of fitas an ideal

technology

fit in a GSS profile. This

view is consistent with approach to contin- gency theory presented earlier (Drazin and Van de Ven 1985), allowing for a holistic approach to examining the complexity inherent

in organizations. Fromthis perspective, fit is

viewed as feasible sets of

alternative designs. Each design should be

internally consistent and matchedto a configu-

rationof contingencies that face the organiza-

tion. This is the idea of fit as an adherence

to an externallyspecified profile(Venkatraman

equally effective

in

strategy context would

involve

fying ideal

environment, and testing the performance effects of

an

identifying distinct environments,speci-

1989).

Testing

this conceptualization

organizational

resource deployments for each

environment/strategycoalignments

(Venkatraman and Prescott 1990).

This conceptualization of fittranslateswell into

a GSS environment.

be defined as ideal profiles composed of an

internally consistent set of task contingencies

and GSS elements that affect

mance. The greater the degree of adherence

group perfor-

to an ideal

of

of task and technolo-

ized as viable

gy. As suggested (Venkatraman and Prescott

1990), a test of task

Task/technology

fit can

profile, the betterthe performance

the group. Ideal profiles can be operational-

alignments

technology

fit would

require three steps: (1) identifying distincttask

environments,(2) specifying ideal technologi-

cal support for each task environment,and (3) testing the performance effects of task/technol-

ogy alignments.

GSS Task/Technology Fit

Fitin existing GSS research

Achieving a fit between a group's task and

GSS

foreffectiveuse of

seminal paper (DeSanctis and Gallupe 1987). McGrath's circumplex of task types was rec- ommended as a classification scheme, and

groupsupportsystems in a

technology was suggested as a principle

prescriptions for appropriate GSS

were provided for three maintask types, e.g., choose type tasks should be used witha GSS

thataids inselection of a solution.The

of GSS researchershave used this circumplex

to classify their tasks, but DeSanctis and

Gallupe's fit prescriptions have not been sys- tematically tested. There is one problem with

how researchershave

applied the circumplex,

based on the fact thattasks

ments of both creativity(generate type) and

problem-solving (choose

work,even if authorsclassified a task in multi-

ple categories

according to the task's different phases, the

technology

majority

typically have ele-

type). In empirical

of McGrath's circumplex

subsequent analysis and discussion of results

were typically combined across the entire group session. This practice makes it difficult

to unravel task/technology fitissues.

A theory of task/technology interaction (TTI)

that defines task by the dimensions of com- plexity,validation,and coordinationand tech- nologyby the dimensionsof individual support,

process

has been

dimensionis furtherdefined by more detailed

attributes;for instance, the

sion is defined by the attributesof structure,

specificity of relationships, and task uncertain-

ty. Each task dimension has a

best-fit

it. However, was noted inthe

sitions are quite broadand a characterization

of expected differences in

based upon theirtask distinctionshas yet to be

developed.

Two other recent theoretical

are notable

accountforthe

of group interaction. Adaptive structurationthe-

ory includestask as a

that combines with other sources, such as

support, and meta-process support

proposed (Rana et al. 1997). Each

technology

complexity

dimen-

prescribed,

dimension associated with

study, the propo-

group

interaction

developments

with respect to their attempt to

complexity and dynamic nature

key

source of structure

MIS Quarterly/September 1998 323

GSS Task/Technology Fit

technology and the

to affect social interaction (DeSanctis and Poole 1994). Inthe model of the flowof effects

for computer-aided work groups (Hollingshead

and McGrath 1995), task is a

able that combines with other

such

utes, to set patterns of

differing

as technology and group memberattrib-

group's internal system,

key input vari- inputvariables,

quality