Collaboration drives individual productivity

Published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 2019

Abstract: ‘How does the number of collaborators affect individual productivity? Results of prior research have been conflicting, with some studies reporting an increase in individual productivity as the number of collaborators grows, while other studies showing that the free-rider effect skews the effort invested by individuals, making larger groups less productive. The difference between these schools of thought is substantial: if a super-scaling effect exists, as suggested by former studies, then as groups grow, their productivity will increase even faster than their size, super-linearly improving their efficiency. We address this question by studying two planetary-scale collaborative systems: GitHub and Wikipedia. By analyzing the activity of over 2 million users on these platforms, we discover that the interplay between group size and productivity exhibits complex, previously-unobserved dynamics: the productivity of smaller groups scales super-linearly with group size, but saturates at larger sizes. This effect is not an artifact of the heterogeneity of productivity: the relation between group size and productivity holds at the individual level. People tend to do more when collaborating with more people. We propose a generative model of individual productivity that captures the non-linearity in collaboration effort. The proposed model is able to explain and predict group work dynamics in GitHub and Wikipedia by capturing their maximally informative behavioral features, and it paves the way for a principled, data-driven science of collaboration.’

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