Assistant Professor Lionel Robert was set on studying management until he completed his master’s degree and was offered a full time job – teaching information technology. “I said sure, give me a book and I can teach anything,” he remembers now. He had always had an interest in technology, but “I never thought about it as a career until that moment.”
It wasn’t long before he brought his interests in management and technology together, focusing on virtual teams as part of his doctoral work at the Indiana University Bloomington Kelley School of Business. “Everything we know about what makes teams work was totally different from what had to happen online,” he says. “To me, that was fascinating. I like being on the cutting edge of human society.”
Lionel, an Army Reserve captain, was just settling into his second year when he was called up to serve, leaving a wife and toddler son in the States. For the next year, he was a Battalion S1 personnel officer for a 500-600 person battalion in Germany near the French border. “It was a very intense time. To leave and then come back, knowing what you’re in for in a PhD program, that was tough. I had to get readjusted.” But he finished the degree, taking a teaching position at the University of Arkansas business school before joining UMSI in 2011.
“I decided that I wanted to try something different, to have the freedom to do different things,” he says. His research here has focused on those virtual teams – everything from how diverse groups can better work together to “social loafing.” In one research project, he focused specifically on how groups were introduced – by what they had in common, the differences between them, or a mix of the two – and how that affected their ultimate productivity. Turns out those groups that were introduced by what they had in common experienced more success in every result measured. “Everybody is similar, and different. It only matters what you focus on.”
Lionel has also studied diversity in virtual teams. “We know a lot about diversity when people are face to face. Does that apply when we’re online?” One of the most rewarding aspects of his research, he says, is its long shelf life. Even though it involves technology, it’s about people, not a particular platform. So research that he did a decade ago is still valid, and he finds valid material for his work in literature from the 1950s. “If you build your academic career around a particular technology, what happens when it goes away? These papers will still be useful.”
Lionel is representing UMSI around the country. He’s on the committee for the 2013 iConference, being held in Forth Worth, Texas, in February. He recently chaired the 10th Annual SIG Cognitive Research Exchange Workshop, the pre-International Conference on Information Systems workshop held in December. And he has been selected for the editorial board of the Journal of Computer Information Systems.