Based on a comparative field study of two software development projects, we use ethnographic methods of observation and interview to examine the question of how interdependent individuals develop and maintain mutual focus of attention on a shared task, which we define as the group engagement process. Drawing on Randall Collins' interaction ritual theory, we identify how mutual focus of attention develops through the presence of a task bubble that focuses attention by creating barriers to outsiders and through the effective use of task-related artifacts. Shared emotion both results from mutual focus of attention and reinforces it. Through our comparison between the two projects, we show that the group engagement process is enabled by factors at the individual (individual engagement), interaction (frequency and informality of interactions), and project (compelling direction of the overall group) levels. Our focus on group interaction episodes as the engine of the group engagement process illuminates what individuals do when they are performing the focal work of the group (i.e., solving problems related to the task at hand) and how they develop and sustain the mutual focus of attention that is required for making collective progress on the task itself. We also show the relationship between the group engagement process and effective problem solving. Link to the article
METIU, A. and ROTHBARD, N.P. (2013). Task Bubbles, Artifacts, Shared Emotion, and Mutual Focus of Attention: A Comparative Study of the Microprocesses of Group Engagement. Organization Science, 34(2), pp. 455-475.