Friday, May 30, 2008

Blackberries and the Information Sharing Problem

At first glance, you might think that a Blackberry is a powerful tool for sharing information. After all, it enables people to stay in constant communication with others if necessary. It provides rapid access to data, regardless of where you are located. However, I have come to believe that Blackberries impede information sharing in one very important way.

Let's step back and consider the research on information sharing in teams. We know from academic research (by Gerald Stasser) that groups do not share information effectively when members possess private information. When members of a group have different pieces of information, Stasser observed an interesting phenomenon: people tend to discuss the information that they all posses in common, and they do not always share or emphasize the information privately held by each group member. The lack of proper information sharing and integration inhibits group problem-solving effectiveness.

Now consider what you surely have observed at many management meetings over the past few years. Someone is presenting at the front of the room, while others around the table listen and ask questions. However, people frequently duck their hands under the table to read an email on their Blackberry or to type out a quick reply. Sometimes, people duck out to take "important" phone calls. It's hard to imagine that effective listening takes place in such environments.

Given this behavior, consider this fact: Stasser's research shows a lack of information sharing in groups, even when everyone appears to be paying close attention! Imagine how much worse the information sharing problem has become given the distraction of Blackberries.

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