Human-Human vs. Human-Robot Collaboration

Applying factors influencing collaboration between humans to human-robot collaboration

Bachelor Thesis 2019 45 Pages

Engineering - Industrial Engineering and Management


Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Research question
1.2 Method
1.3 Structure

2 Overview of human-human collaboration
2.1 Collaboration
2.2 Team Development
2.3 Teams
2.4 Teamwork

3 Factors affecting team performance
3.1 Adaptability
3.1.1 Coordination
3.1.2 Backup behavior
3.2 Communication
3.3 Mutual trust
3.4 Shared understanding
3.4.1 Groupthink
3.5 Team orientation
3.6 Team leadership
3.7 Team composition and characteristics
3.7.1 Team Size
3.7.2 Team Diversity
3.7.3 Personality types

4 Implications for human-robot collaboration
4.1 Adaptability
4.2 Communication
4.3 Trust
4.3.1 Appearance
4.4 Shared understanding

5 Conclusion and Outlook

6 Bibliography

7 Table offigures

1 Introduction

The development of modern industrial robots is advancing year by year. Currently robots are more precise, faster and more powerful than ever before. However, despite these advancements, it is still unlikely that robots will reach the dexterity and intelligence of humans anytime soon. Therefore, at least for the foreseeable future, humans remain irreplaceable in many assembly operations.1 Still, this does not imply that humans and robots cannot benefit each other. On the contrary, combining the strengths of each individual creates new opportunities for collaboration and collaborative work.

Robots exhibit high precision and repeatability, can handle heavy loads and operate without performance deterioration, even in difficult or dangerous environments. However, robot control systems quickly reach their limits in recognizing and handling unpredictable situations and uncertainties in their environment, which are normally no problem for humans. This is mainly due to the ability of humans to tackle unexpected obstacles, their awareness of a much larger part of the environment than formally declared and lastly humans show more dexterity in complex or sensitive tasks. Despite that humans are more prone to error, stress or fatigue, and their employment underlies strict health and safety regulations.2

Robots that interact with human beings are called collaborative robots or cobots for short. The goal of this very human-robot collaboration is not to replace the human but rather to create opportunities for humans and robots to work together towards a common aim by mutually increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of their team performance. This, for example, can be achieved by employing robots in sectors where manual labor is predominant.3In fact, cobots – designed for the assembly line worker – can reduce ergonomic concerns that arise due to physical and cognitive loading, while improving safety, quality and productivity.”4 What is more, by combining the complementary capabilities of the robot with those of the human within a team, new space for innovative and creative ideas could be opened.5

1.1 Research question

Human-robot collaboration is a fairly new field of research, and for this reason, there has been barely shed light upon this topic up to today. Thus, the purpose of this work is to investigate and analyze which factors have an impact on the collaborative work of humans. Subsequently, based on this analysis of the relevant parameters, implications can be made for human-robot collaborations to ensure optimal work settings to facilitate effective teaming.

The research question is thus: What relevant factors exist that enables humans and robots to collaborate most successfully to ensure optimal process-based workflows?

1.2 Method

Discourse analysis as well as a literature research and analysis of the existing literature on human-human collaboration will be the preferred methods to find an answer to this research question.

1.3 Structure

The first chapter presents a brief introduction into the topic of HRC, the research question and the methodology used in this thesis. Chapter 2 will subsequently give an overview of the current state of research regarding collaboration, teams, team development and teamwork. The third chapter gathers the relevant factors affecting team performance in human-human collaborations. In Chapter 4 I will try to apply the relevant factors distilled from the Chapter 3 to human-robot collaboration. This is then followed by a conclusion summing up the most relevant points.

2 Overview of human-human collaboration

Human-human collaboration has been the centerpiece of human social organization ever since the dawn of humanity. In fact, our ancient ancestors first banded together to hunt, raise families, and defend their communities. Human history is essentially a story of people forming groups and working together to explore, achieve and conquer.6 Clearly, collaboration touches our lives every single day which indicates even more the importance of effective collaborative work to the well-being of mankind.

Yet, the modern concept of work in large organizations - that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - is mainly a tale of work as a collection of individual jobs. However, a number of global shifts in the environment has pushed organizations worldwide to restructure work around collaboration in order to enable more rapid, flexible, and adaptive responses to the dynamically changing conditions of our society.7

2.1 Collaboration

First of all, it is crucial to define the term collaboration. It has been used throughout a variety of research disciplines to describe various types of interaction. Mostly due to the reason that a comprehensive and unifying definition of the concept is lacking. This absence of clarity regarding the characteristics - distinctions and commonalities - of collaboration and other forms of interaction has led to deficiencies and confusion that have had an impact on the practice and research in human resource management.8 Even among experts, the difficulty of agreeing on a definition of collaboration is prevalent.9 Furthermore, in the literature coordination, cooperation, group work, teams, and collaboration are often used interchangeably. However, even though all these concepts share similarities, they are not entirely the same.10

Bedwell et al define collaboration more specifically as “an evolving process whereby two or more social entities actively and reciprocally engage in joint activities aimed at achieving at least one shared goal.”11

There are a few key characteristics that make Bedwell’s definition so useful: According to Bedwells definition collaboration is an evolving and reciprocal process that requires the participation of two or more social entities in joint activities in order to achieve a shared goal. This means that collaboration is not a static prescribed state of organization but rather an active process that changes over time and involves two or more entities interacting together (the term entities may refer to individuals, teams, units, departments, functional areas, organization). So, for instance, collaborative engagements can occur between a single organization and a group.

Furthermore, collaboration cannot be one-sided, therefore one party dictating and controlling the other would not be considered collaboration but rather a form of delegation of work. However, engagement from each party does not have to be equal. In essence, all involved entities have to work interdependently and contribute sufficiently towards reaching their shared goals, which is arguably the most critical aspect of collaboration, since there would be no reason for two or more entities to work together without at least one joint aim.12

As for cooperation, Roschelle states that: ‘‘ Cooperation is accomplished by the division of labor among participants, as an activity where each person is responsible for a portion of the problem solving. ’’13 Salas, Sims and Burke describe cooperation as an individual's propensity to consider other's behavior when interacting in a group and the belief in the importance of the team's goals over individual goals.14 Therefore, cooperation can be viewed as a mindset in which the involved parties are more concerned about the joint goal than their own benefits. Ultimately, cooperation is required for effective collaboration, but it is not a description of collaboration itself.15

When discussing the topic of cooperation, the concept of division of labor cannot be left out. According to Wagenblaß division of labor refers to the separation of a production process into single and independent assignments, which can be carried out by different economic entities – such as individuals, companies or even entire nations.16 Division of labor is such an important concept because “the improvement of the dexterity of the workman necessarily increases the quantity of the work he can perform; and the division of labour, by reducing every man's business to some one simple operation, and by making this operation the sole employment of his life, necessarily increases very much the dexterity of the workman."17 Essentially, dividing labor maximizes the efficiency of production processes by breaking them down into smaller tasks.

There exists a variety of different ways to divide labor depending on the context (local, regional, global etc.). However, for the sake of this thesis I will be only addressing the aspects of quantitative and qualitative division of labor briefly. The process of qualitatively dividing work is also referred to as specialization. Hereby, work is divided among individuals with specific tasks assigned to each person. In this process, each individual learns to specialize in completing one part of the entire process. Therefore, saving time, money, and waste, as one becomes proficient at the same task by devoting his or her complete attention to one specific assignment. This leads to great increases in productivity as well as profitability.18 Oppositely, when work is divided by quantity each entity is responsible for every production step even though it is merely a subset of the total volume. Specialization does not play any significant role.19 It is apparent that qualitative labor division shows high relevancy for HRC, as robots are highly specialized in a few very specific tasks.

Furthermore, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionaries, coordination is “the process of organizing people or groups so that they work together properly and well.20 In essence, coordination is about the temporal sequencing of actions, which means that all effective collaborative efforts require varying levels of coordination, depending on task and the size of the entities involved.21

Adding to that, the concept of teams most closely resembles the definition of collaboration. However, there is one major distinction between those two constructs. Collaboration can involve individuals, groups, units, organizations, or any cross-level combination thereof. In contrast, teamwork exclusively involves individuals within one team - not between teams, organizations, or societies. Thus, teamwork can be seen as an instantiation of collaboration, which therefore means that all teamwork is an example of collaboration. To clarify, collaboration can exist at a level beyond a team, so not all collaborative activities can be classified as teamwork. This is an example of a construct that is completely integrated within the term collaboration. Since all defining criteria of collaboration also describe teams just at one specific level of analysis.22

Lastly, the difference between group work and teamwork are even more subtle. In some literature transition from group work to teamwork is fluid, and thus both definitions are used interchangeably.23 However, according to Eberhardt, there are a few characteristics that distinct groups from teams. First of all, group work requires cooperation, which means that aggregating workers in a shared space is not considered group work.24 Groups include between 3 to 20 members that work towards a common goal. What is distinctive for groups is that the members do not have to work together to achieve their common goal which is the main point differentiation. Whereas all team members are responsible for the end result by tackling the tasks and challenges together as a unit. Groups, on the other hand, can achieve their goal by mutually sharing the work load, where each member is solely responsible for a single task, which then is pieced together for the final result.25

For the purpose of this thesis and drawing upon the definition of collaboration by Bedwell et al, teams will be defined as an evolving process whereby two or more individuals actively and reciprocally engage in joint activities, aimed at achieving at least one shared goal.

It is clear that all these terms share a common ground and overlap to a certain extent. However, as highlighted above they possess certain characteristics that distinct them from one another, so that they cannot be used as synonyms. Furthermore, to clarify the relationship among those five constructs and to highlight where they overlap, they can be visualized using a Venn Diagram (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Therefore, collaboration can be conceptualized as a higher-level or superordinate construct that encompasses many constructs such as cooperation, teamwork, group work, coordination and the like.

However, since the focus of this work is to analyze how humans and robots can work together in the most efficient and effective way, it means that teams - collaboration on a micro-level - are essential to the analysis. Thus, the passages below will focus on development of teams, teamwork, as well as the underlying factors that influence teamwork.

2.2 Team Development

Investigating the formation of teams and how they change over their life of is a major part in team development research. The evolution and development of teams is usually categorized in stages. One of the most influential models regarding the development of small groups has been Bruce W. Tuckman’s stage model26 which has become “the most predominantly referred to and most widely recognized in organizational literature.27 Tuckman suggests that small groups move through a series of defined activities and behaviors through its lifetime. Initially the model consisted of four hierarchical stages, namely forming, storming, norming, and performing.28 Later, an additional stage called adjourning was added for groups that disband after completing the work.29

In the initial stage, the group starts to assess the task and norms within the group. Hereby, ground rules are established and boundaries for interpersonal and task behaviors are being tested. This is also the stage in which members are forming relationships with their respective leaders, organizational structures, and each other.30

Storming, the second stage, represents a phase where intra-group conflicts arise due to leadership struggles, a lack of unity and interpersonal issues. Group members may show resistance when moving into unknown areas and seek to retain security by responding emotionally to the task as a form of imposition.31 Tuckman stated that in this stage “group members become hostile toward one another and toward a therapist or trainer as a means of expressing their individuality and resisting the formation of group structure”.32

Groups then move onto the stage of norming. In this stage, the group develops cohesion and seek to maintain the group. Conflicts are avoided in an effort to insure harmony. Group members accept each other, express personal opinions and establish roles and norms. Norming also marks the beginning of the development of shared mental models and the discovery of the most effective ways to work with each other.33

In the fourth stage members adapt and play roles that will enhance the task activities. Furthermore, roles become flexible and functional, and the group focused on the completion of the tasks.34 The last stage adjourning occurs after completing the work as the groups start to wrap up. Group members may experience high optimism due to their accomplishments or they may be low-spirited because of the loss of friendships. This final stage is only relevant to disbanding groups and therefore seen as a less important element of group development.35

2.3 Teams

Teams exist and perform in a number of contexts and are involved in many facets of society – from private industries to military operations and governmental research. They act as smaller and more specialized units of a superordinate organization. By uniting efforts and combining the strengths of many, teams can solve complex and broad problems, while offering greater creativity and productivity as well as efficiency than what can be provided by any one human being alone.36 Hence, given the advantages of teams, it is clear that they play an essential role in organizations to deal with the increasing complexities of the environment.

Two processes happen simultaneously when people form teams to work on a project, namely taskwork and teamwork. Both processes are of equal importance, when it comes to successful collaboration. Hence, it is crucial to emphasize and engage in teamwork as well as taskwork equally.37 Taskwork refers to the performance of specific tasks needed to achieve team goals. Tasks are those work-related activities that individuals or teams engage in as an essential function of their organizational role. For example, interactions with tools, machines, and systems.38 Usually taskwork becomes the main focus as teams work towards their goals, but it is only effective in combination with teamwork. Since teams do more than simply interact with tools, they require the ability to coordinate, interact with each other and share the team’s resources – such as knowledge, skills, and experience.39 Teamwork involves the mindset, behaviors and actions of each team member. This set of thoughts, actions, and feelings influences greatly how teams work together and can make the difference between success and failure, regardless of the members’ task-relevant expertise.40 This makes teamwork a necessity for teams to succeed in reaching their goals.

2.4 Teamwork

Teamwork is a direct result of team members holding required competencies. All team members and teams have competencies that enable them to perform effectively.41 Essentially, it consists of three psychological facets: attitudes, behavior and cognitions.42

Team attitudes describe the internal states which affect the interactions between the team members, for example cohesion, collective efficacy and mutual trust. Furthermore, they have been associated not only with improved team outcomes, but also satisfaction and performance.43 Team behavior is the process that is necessary to engage in teamwork. This includes information exchange, support of team members, and monitoring processes to detect problems. Finally, team cognition refers to the knowledge among members, which allows teams to plan and execute actions efficiently. Even when a team possesses broad task-related knowledge, they will ultimately fail if there is a lack of trust, successful coordination and shared knowledge. Thus, it is essential to foster all three dimensions of teamwork within teams44


1 Cherubini et al., 2015, 1.

2 Wang et al., 2017, 5f.

3 Arai et al., 2010, 5-8.

4 Cherubini et al., 2015, 1f.

5 Monostori et al., 2016, 621f.

6 Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006, 77.

7 Ibid., 78.

8 Bedwell et al., 2012, 128-129.

9 Dillenbourg et al., 1996, 2f.

10 https://hbr.org/2015/04/theres-a-difference-between-cooperation-and-collaboration, last accessed July 10, 2018

11 Bedwell et al., 2012, 130.

12 Ibid., 130-134.

13 Roschelle & Teasley, 1995, 70.

14 Salas, Sims & Burke, 2005, 584f.

15 Bedwell et al., 2012, 136.

16 Wagenblaß, 2001, 32.

17 Smith, 2007, 10f.

18 http://www.daswirtschaftslexikon.com/d/arbeitsteilung_und_spezialisierung/arbeitsteilung_und_spez Ialisierung.htm, last accessed December 29, 2018

19 Krahé, Naber & Steudte, 2013, 23.

20 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coordination, last accessed July 23, 2018

21 Bedwell et al., 2012, 135.

22 Ibid., 134-136.

23 Spath et al., 2017, 26.

24 Schlick et al., 2018, 682f.

25 Eberhardt, 2013, 8.

26 Miller, 2003, 122.

27 Ibid., 122.

28 Tuckman, 1965, 395f.

29 Tuckman & Jensen, 1977, 426.

30 Bonebright, 2010, 113 & Tuckman, 1965, 395f.

31 Bonebright, 2010, 114.

32 Tuckman, 1965, 386

33 Bonebright, 2010, 114.

34 Ibid., 114.

35 Miller, 2003, 122.

36 Marks, Mathieu & Zaccaro, 2001, 359-362.

37 http://web.mit.edu/collaborationtbox/module3/team-task.pdf, last accessed August 18, 2018

38 Wildman et al., 2012, 84-87.

39 Salas, Sims & Burke, 2005, 562.

40 Salas et al., 2015, 599-601.

41 Rouse & Boff, 2005, 185f.

42 Cannon-Bowers & Bowers, 2011, 597.

43 Costa, 2003, 616f.

44 Mathieu et al., 2008, 416.


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Vienna University of Technology
Human-Robot Collaboration



Title: Human-Human vs. Human-Robot Collaboration