TOCHI Issue 23:3 is now fully available on the ACM Digital Library.

And in my editorial remarks for this month, I felt compelled, once again, to Spotlight two key contributions in this latest and greatest issue, the first of which is as follows:



Predicting Team Performance From Thin Slices Of Conflict

The balance of positive to negative affect during episodes of marital conflict has been found to be highly indicative—even years in advance—of functional marriages (as opposed to dysfunctional ones). This is a well-established result.

Indeed, the finding has been extended to dyads engaged in negotiation, or in pair programming, for example.

But it has remained unclear if the significance of affect applies to groups more generally.

Or even under the reasonable presumption that it probably does, this has still left unresolved the tricky question of how to study it, and how to elicit ‘thin-slices’ of conflict (e.g. a frank, 15-minute discussion of difficulties plaguing a team project) in a practical manner that is amenable to further analysis, scientific and otherwise.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of this TOCHI article—including a novel methodology for the elicitation of conflict from small groups—the predictive power of an overabundance of negative affect (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, etc.) relative to positive expressions (interest, humor, validation, and so forth) has been convincingly demonstrated, for the first time, as highly predictive in terms of the long-term success of teams (of up to 4 individuals) engaged in design activities.

While the slices of conflict are thin, the analysis (and insights thus derived) are deep, and indeed were highly predictive of the teams’ success up to 6 months in advance.

The author presents two in-depth studies, the first of which had the participants self-assess their affect by watching a recording of their own conflict session and setting a dial to indicate their real-time feelings (a continuous value from very negative, to neutral, to very positive).

The second study followed up the first with an objective measure of affect, derived from extremely thorough video analysis of each individual’s affect (including detailed capture of all utterances, and facial expressions, and body language). While a smaller sample, coupled with the first study the general pattern of findings is convincing.

The potential applications of this work, its methodology, and its findings are many.

To cite just one example, the author notes that, broadly speaking, the design of groupware and CSCW applications have tended to focus on the support of task-oriented processes—as opposed to the socio-emotional processes of the team.

This may be a critical mistake.

While some baseline of support for the group’s actual tasks and work is (of course) necessary (as articulated by the coordination theory of Malone & Crowston, for example), the findings of this new TOCHI study argue strongly that it is the coordination of affect, as opposed to that of the tasks, that is the key defining characteristic of success in team endeavors.


Malte Jung. 2016. Coupling Interactions and Performance: Predicting Team Performance from Thin Slices of Conflict. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 3, Article 18 (June 2016), 36 pages.