Artificial Intelligence and Social Simulation: Studying Group Dynamics on a Massive Scale

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Jesse Hoey of the University of Waterloo, Tobias Schröder of Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, Jonathan Morgan of Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, Kimberly B. Rogers of Dartmouth College, Deepak Rishi of the University of Waterloo, and Meiyappan Nagappan of the University of Waterloo. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “Spotlight on Methods: Artificial Intelligence and Social Simulation: Studying Group Dynamics on a Massive Scale,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, They discusses some of the findings of this research:]

SGR_72ppiRGB_powerpointTechnological and social innovations are increasingly generated through informal, distributed processes of collaboration, rather than in formal, hierarchical organizations. In this article, we present a novel combination of data-driven and model-based approaches to explore the social and psychological mechanisms motivating these modern self-organized collaborations. We focus on the example of open, collaborative software development in online collaborative networks like GitHub (github.com). The synthesized approach is based in affect control theory (ACT), and a recent framing in Artificial Intelligence known as Bayesian affect control theory (BayesACT). The general assumption of ACT is that humans are motivated in their social interactions by affective alignment: They strive for their social experiences to be coherent at a deep, emotional level with their sense of identity and general worldviews as constructed through culturally shared symbols. This alignment is used in BayesACT as a control mechanism to generate artificially intelligent agents that can learn to be functioning members of a social order (see bayesact.ca for further information).

We show in this article how such a model solves two basic problems in the social scientific study of groups and teams. First, because empirical research on groups relies on manual coding, it is hard to study groups in large numbers (the scaling problem). Second, conventional statistical methods in behavioral science often fail to capture the nonlinear interaction dynamics occurring in small groups (the dynamics problem). The ACT-based models we present allow for sophisticated machine learning techniques to be combined in a parsimonious way with validated social-psychological models of group behaviour such that both of these problems are solved in a single computational model.

The purpose of the present article is to discuss the promises of this cross-disciplinary, computational approach to the study of small group dynamics. We review computational methods for using large amounts of social media data, and connect these methods to theoretically informed models of human behaviour in groups. To use a metaphor, we are digging into digital group dynamics data with a sophisticated, artificially intelligent shovel, and showing how computational social science can be taken to a new level with this unique and novel combination of data-driven and model-based approaches. The work is an international collaboration called THEMIS.COG (themis-cog.ca) between researchers in Canada (University of Waterloo), the USA (Dartmouth College), and Germany (Potsdam University of Applied Sciences).

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When Leadership Powers Team Learning: A Meta-Analysis

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Mieke Koeslag-Kreunen of Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, Piet Van den Bossche of the University of Antwerp, Michael Hoven of Maastricht University, Marcel Van der Klink of Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, and Wim Gijselaers of Maastricht University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “When Leadership Powers Team Learning: A Meta-Analysis,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they discuss some of the findings of this research:]

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

We are fascinated why some leaders succeed and others don’t in getting the most out of their teams. Knowing that team processes determine team effectiveness we wanted to know how leadership makes a difference in teams. Keeping in mind that one of the fundamental team processes is sharing knowledge and discussing what is shared to build advanced or new knowledge that enable developing the necessary solutions as a team. We were intrigued by the question how team leaders can facilitate this process of team learning without over-structuring it and leaving no space for team members to exhibit the necessary behaviors themselves. Many different leadership behaviors can be effective, but team leaders simply cannot display all necessary behaviors by themselves. Moreover, what can you do as a team leader when your team faces a task that is unstructured or for which you also do not have the answers? What is the best advice for these team leaders? In answering this question, we wanted to identify when leadership propels teams in building new or advanced knowledge.

In what ways is your research innovative and can it impact the field?

After synthesizing the 2000+ scientific hits on the topic, we showed that encouraging, structuring and sharing team leadership behaviors all support team learning. Interestingly, we also found new evidence that the type of team task determines which leadership behaviors can best be displayed to support teams in building new or advanced knowledge. As a consequence, the advice for team leaders is to vary their behavior depending on the team task and to ascertain the specific team situation in their choice. If pioneering ideas and new products of teams are aimed for, team leaders should mainly invest in building trust, creativity and enthusiasm, and not inhibit teams from learning by putting too much emphasis on the task. If advancing existing knowledge and adaptation of the products is enough to reach team success, team leaders who focus on the task, methods and outcomes are beneficial because such behaviors reinforces using known protocols.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

It would be interesting to dig into the reciprocal effect of the team process and leadership behavior, as well as how leadership behavior may shift in style and source over time. We mainly found cross-sectional studies that covered just one or two types of team leadership behavior and examines its influence on team learning behavior. Experimental and longitudinal studies on this topic may bring new perspectives on how team leaders can vary their behavior, what kind of effect that has on team learning, and what team leaders can do to use that information in future team interactions, subsequently.

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Argument Complexity and Discussions of Political/Religious Issues

[We’re pleased to welcome authors, Dr. Lyn M. Van Swol of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Dr. Cassandra L. Carlson-Hill Carolina of Coastal Universit, and Dr. Emily Elizabeth Acosta Lewis of Sonoma State University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “Integrative Complexity, Participation, and Agreement in Group Discussions,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Van Swol discusses some of the findings of this research:]

SGR_72ppiRGB_powerpointPolitical and religious issues can be difficult to discuss in a group, and it can be especially difficult to convince others who disagree with your viewpoint. This paper examined the role of complexity of arguments in a group discussion of a political/religious issue. Groups discussed whether or not the words “under God” should be in the United States Pledge of Allegiance. We had hypothesized that group members whose opinion were more similar to their fellow group members would increase the complexity of their contributions to the group when they were exposed to group members with more fringe opinions, but this was not supported. However, members with more fringe opinions in the group were more successful in influencing the group towards their opinion when they used more complex arguments. Argument complexity did not matter for group members with more mainstream views in terms of how much they influenced the group decision. Because group members with more fringe and discrepant opinions cannot appeal to their opinion being normative and aligned with the majority in the group, it may be important for them to have complex arguments to be persuasive. Complex arguments tend to be more nuanced and less dogmatic, which may make someone with an opinion more different from others in the group seem more flexible and informed. Finally, arguments used by members in the group discussion were more complex when the group had a longer discussion. This highlights the benefits of extending group discussion to let more nuances of the topic of discussion get expressed.

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Self-Organizing Into Winning Teams: Understanding the Mechanisms that Drive Successful Collaborations

workplace-1245776_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Amy Wax of California State University, Long Beach, Leslie A. Dechurch, and Noshir S. Contractor of Northwestern University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “Self-organizing into winning teams: understanding the mechanisms that drive successful collaborations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Wax reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

SGR_48_3_Covers.inddWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

This paper is based on my dissertation research. Throughout graduate school, I was interested in studying team composition and diversity in teams. So, the topic of team self-assembly was very interesting to me (being that it has a lot to do with team composition), and I decided to make it the primary emphasis of my dissertation.

Specifically, I decided to focus on self-assembled teams using a sample of Chinese online gamers because I was granted unique access to a large digital trace data set that could potentially inform my research questions.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

One of the most challenging (but also most fun/rewarding) parts of conducting this research was spending the summer of 2014 in Shanghai, working on data mining and analyses. It was mainly challenging because of the language barrier. Overall, it was an amazing experience!

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

Unfortunately, a series of semi-structured interviews that we conducted with Chinese and American online gamers ended up getting cut from the paper. Look out for a future publication with these results!

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Small Family Firms: How Knowledge is Shared

One could imagine that every small family firm has their particular habits when knowledge sharing, especially when the success (or failure) of the business relies on effective communication.

A recent study published in Family Business Review analyzes the different leadership approaches to knowledge sharing, and we are pleased to welcome one of the authors, James Cunningham, who reflects on the foundation and findings of the research. The paper, entitled “Perceptions of Knowledge Sharing Amongst Small Family Firm Leaders–A Structural Equation Model,” is co-authored by Claire Seaman and David McGuire. From Cunningham:]

Family firms are known for the unique ways in which they view and run their business. This has led many to believe that firms with a family influence behave differeFBR_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgntly to their non-family counterparts. While a lot of research focuses on the many implications of this difference for the economic impact family firms, in terms of strategi
c direction, longevity, etc., we were more curious to know how the influence of family impacts what it is like inside the firm.

In this respect, knowledge is increasingly becoming the most important internal resource for a competitive organisation in the contemporary business environment. Integrating and exploiting the knowledge of people in the business has become one of the key activities of the modern business leader. The impact of leadership on how the firm manages knowledge is long established in the broader management literature, but our instincts would tell us that family firms will have their own way of approaching and managing knowledge. In this article, we uncover the different leadership behaviours played out in small family firms and how these behaviours are related to the leader’s perception of knowledge sharing in the firm. Essentially, we ask the question, does family influence help or hinder the development of a knowledge resource?

Unsurprisingly, we found a variety of leadership behaviours employed by family firm leaders. We present a choice in how the family firm views its knowledge resource. We suggest that a greater level of family influence implies more guidance-based leadership when it comes to knowledge. Knowledge here is considered a quality the family leaders have, which must be ‘distilled’ to other organisational members. While, the alternative is a participative approach to knowledge in the firm, one more accepting of input from others, but with the potential to reduce family control.

This choice of leadership approach is important for family business leaders to consider, as there are important implications for the development of their knowledge resource. We see these findings as part of a research direction which moves away from viewing family firms as a homogenous group, subject to the overbearing influence of family. Instead, we present the behaviours inside these organisation as choices, and these choices at the most basic level represent the business intentions of family firm leaders.

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CEO Characteristics That Influence A Firm’s Investing Strategy

[We’re pleased to welcome author Bruce C. Rudy of The University of Texas at San Antonio. He recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “The Chief Political Officer: CEO Characteristics and Firm Investment in Corporate Political Activity,” co-authored by Andrew F. Johnson. From Rudy:]

In setting outB&S_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpg to study what drives organizations to engage in corporate political activity (CPA), my coauthor (Andrew F. Johnson, Ph.D.) and I were struck by how little was known about the role that the firm’s leader played in this regard.  This was especially surprising considering that we have a well-researched theory on the influence of the firm’s leader on its strategic choices (i.e., Upper Echelons Theory).  When we combined the concepts underpinning CPA and Upper Echelons Theories, a number of novel ideas emerged and we knew we had the opportunity to make important contributions to both theories.  The data we collected supported many of these ideas.  We are thrilled that Business & Society has provided us the opportunity to share our research with you.

The full abstract to their article is below:

Research on corporate political activity has considered a number of antecedents to a firm’s engagement in politics. The majority of this research has focused on either industry or firm-level motivations that lead to corporate political activity, leaving the role of the firm’s leader noticeably absent in such scholarship. This article combines ideas from Upper Echelons Theory with research in corporate political activity to bridge this important gap. More specifically, this research utilizes CEO demographic characteristics to determine (a) whether a firm will invest in political activity and (b) how these characteristics influence the particular approach to political activity the firm undertakes. Considering 27 years of data from large U.S. firms, we find that a CEO’s age, tenure, functional, and educational backgrounds influence whether and how the firm invests in political activity.

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Learning Effective Business Communication Through LeBron James’s Career

[We’re pleased to welcome author Alperen Manisaligil of Case Western Reserve University, who recently published an article in the Journal of Management Education entitled “Taking Your Talents to Business Communications: Analyzing Effective Communication Through LeBron James’s Career Moves,” co-authored by Diana Bilimoria. Below Manisaligil explains the inspiration for the research, and surprising conclusions. From Manisaligil:]

3408889046_b3188df44e_z.jpgI came to Cleveland in 2011 from Turkey to pursue my PhD in Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, and I observed how sorry most of the Clevelanders were because LeBron James left the Cavs for the Miami Heat and how happy and hopeful most of Clevelanders (including myself) felt after LeBron’s return in the Summer of 2014. In the Fall of 2014, I was asked to prepare and teach a required undergraduate class that covered business communications and all functional areas of business (accounting, finance, human resources management, management information systems, marketing, and operations management). The first class was on August 26, 2014, the summer LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavs).

One of the first principles of effective business communication is to draw the attention of your audience at the beginning of the communication. I wanted to come up with an interesting activity so that I can demonstrate what I teach at the very start. I thought I could transform the communication of LeBron James and the Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert during LeBron’s career moves into an engaging in-class activity by using their publicly available videos and open letters. When I took the idea to one of my teaching mentors, Diana Bilimoria, she thought it was a brilliant idea and that I could even turn this activity into a publication (she later become the co-author of the article).

With the goal of publishing the activity for the benefit of other management educators, I prepared a case study and enriched the activity with media richness and channel expansion theories. I wanted to add academic depth to an event that everybody was talking about and take the conversation to a whole new level, focusing on what we all could learn from it. I designed and taught the activity for the first time, and it was well received by my students—I was even nominated for a university-wide as well as a school-wide teaching award at the end of the semester for teaching the course. Then, we wanted to see test potential modifications for this activity and Dr. Bilimoria used the activity in her elective graduate course on leadership, emphasizing LeBron’s growth as a leader most particularly.

What surprised me about the findings is that gender and nationality did not impact students’ learning from the activity, and students from different backgrounds were similarly engaged during the activity. Maybe we owed it to the fact that we taught the activity in a university in Cleveland, so I would be curious to learn management educators’ experiences using this activity in other geographical locations.

Media choices are increasing rapidly, adding new challenges for managers as they complete business communication tasks. I hope with the help of this activity, we can help practitioners make better-informed decisions in choosing the most appropriate medium to communicate and enrich their use of the chosen medium.

I and my co-author received excellent guidance from the action editor Jen Leigh, as well as two anonymous reviewers. I’m also thankful to Rachel Messina King, Phil Thompson, and Stacey Chung for their comments to earlier drafts.

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LeBron James photo attributed to: Keith Allison (CC)