Command and control in virtual environments: using contingency theory to understand organization in virtual worlds
Nissen, Mark E.
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Organization Contingency Theory has served us well for more than half a century. It enjoys abundant empirical support and guides organizational design and change across a broad diversity of contingencies, in terms of command and control as well as organization and management. Through a combination of research and practice we understand how organizations are designed to fit their environments, technologies and other contingencies individually as well as simultaneously. An emerging phenomenon is straining this understanding, however, as new organizations are spawning wholly within virtual worlds. Here the organization and its environment exist solely within technological artifacts. This raises an important organizational design question regarding the fit of such organizations with their virtual environments and corresponding technologies. From one perspective, we can argue that virtual worlds are not important beyond recreation and game playing, that textbook principles of Contingency Theory and organizational design apply to virtual worlds directly, and that our extant understanding of telework, electronic commerce, network-centric operations, and virtual organization is sufficient. From an alternate perspective, many serious organizations are emerging within such worlds, worlds which have few physical constraints. Also, advances in graphics technology and cinematic engagement enable unparalleled levels of immersiveness that can induce sustained psychological engrossment in virtual worlds, along with time investments and emotional commitments comparable to or exceeding those associated with physical organizations. As part of a continuing initiative on command and control (C2) in virtual environments, the research described in this article takes neither perspective but uses Contingency Theory to understand organization in virtual worlds. Through immersive and extensive ethnographic research within virtual worlds, intriguing new insights into Contingency Theory and organizational design emerge, and we begin to outline a framework for understanding how and where C2 can be enhanced through virtual world immersion.
NPS Report NumberNPS-IS-10-005
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