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Disruptions in Task Groups


  • Jane Sell will share the coded data from this research. This research was supported, in part, by National Science Foundation Grant SES#0001887. We appreciate all the various support provided by Pam Hunter-Holmes, Iris Park Chu, Tony Love, Lauren Masullo, Karlen Moore, Chelcie Wesley, and Chris Azbill. Kristen Backor especially influenced our research. We appreciate comments to an earlier version of this article from Henry Walker and Shane Thye.

Direct correspondence to Jane Sell, Department of Sociology, Texas A&M University at College Station, 311 Academic Bldg., College Station, TX 77843 〈〉.



This research addresses the effect of interruptions on task groups; interactions and individual group members’ feelings about the task and the group itself. The interruptions that we consider are not generated from within the group, but have their source outside the group. Emphasizing the theories of structural ritualization, relational cohesion, and productive exchange, we predict that interruptions that have positive, negative, or neutral effects on the group all cause problems with the resolution of routine.


We design and conduct a four-condition experiment to test our predictions.


There was more stability in group procedures when there was no interruption than when there was any kind of interruption. There were no differences in efficiency or activities between positive and negative interruptions. However, there were more agreements in positive interruption groups than in negative interruption groups. Additionally, group members’ perceptions varied by the type of interruption: those in positively interrupted groups reported higher levels of competence and feelings of success.


We find that interruption, in and of itself, creates problems with resumption of group processes. Whether the interruption is positive or negative, however, does create interaction differences and differences in group members’ perceptions and affect related to the group and each other.