Faculty/Staff Current Students

Bursts of inspiration come from bursts of communication

Recent research from Professor Christoph Riedl finds that the secret to effective teamwork is all about the timing. What could this mean for your work communications?

Published

June 11, 2018

Learn More About


Although technology connects us to one another 24/7, constant communication is actually bad for team problem solving. Why? The common practice of constantly checking email or g-chatting co-workers about a current project is detrimental to completing projects successfully.

Professor Christop Riedl’s recent research found that “bursty” communication is better for team performance and better quality work. An example of “bursty” communication is a team using a group messaging platform to ask questions, respond, and cultivate ideas in a short amount of time and then logging off to do the work.

“Bursty really means there are these ups and downs and flows of a lot of communication and then a little communication,” said Riedl.

Riedl studied the messaging activity of 260 software developers working remotely across 50 countries. Developers were divided into five-person teams, and given the same goal: create an algorithm that recommends the best items to include in a space shuttle medical kit.

The team had 10 days to develop their algorithm. After this, Riedl and his collaborator, Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon University, analyzed the final products and scored their performance. The two found that teams that communicated in bursts produced better algorithms than those teams that did not.

“This is quite counter to the common-sense assumption that constant communication is a good thing,” Riedl said. “Teams that have these bursts of activity do better than those that have the trickle approach of communication.”

Read more on News@Northeastern.