Gender-Based Communication Styles, Trust, and Satisfaction in Virtual Teams

Article excerpt

Introduction

Advances in technology have changed the way many teams function. It is no longer necessary for teams to meet face-to-face with advances in technologies such as email, chat capabilities, video conferencing, and group support systems. Today's teams are composed of individuals who are often geographically dispersed and who come together and disband quickly depending upon the organization's needs. These teams use synchronous and asynchronous computer mediated communication and have often been referred to as virtual teams. The word virtual however, often causes confusion and researchers have struggled with its definition. For the purposes of this paper, we use the term "virtual team" to describe a short-duration distributed team that utilizes asynchronous computer mediated communication solely (we use the terms "short-duration virtual team" and "virtual team" interchangeably). We admit that our definition is somewhat short-sited and results will refer to a small group of teams that fit this limited definition.

Previous studies have identified the difficulty of communicating in virtual teams because of the lack of media richness (Watson-Manheim & Belanger, 2002). Many forms of computer mediated communication are more difficult because of the absence of nonverbal cues such as body language, gestures, and voice tone and inflection. The asynchronous nature of communications in virtual teams adds to the difficulty. Misunderstandings are more common and individuals working in virtual teams may be slower to develop trust in other members. When trust is absent, team members feel the need to double check each others' work and this increases transaction costs.

Since studies have shown that individuals have higher trust for members of their own demographic group (Keller, 2001; M. Williams, 2001), it is possible that gender composition in teams has an impact on performance. In this exploratory study, we analyze the effect of gender on trust and satisfaction in virtual teams and analyze whether individuals in gender-heterogeneous or gender-homogeneous teams experience higher trust and satisfaction.

Literature Review

Studies of virtual team effectiveness have identified the importance of trust. Trust has been defined as "the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party" (Mayer, Davis & Schoorman, 1995). A lack of trust exists when one party does not have faith in the competencies of another or questions the motivation of the other to take the promised action as seriously (van der Smagt, 2000). So, trust can be seen as a relationship between two or more individuals in which one perceives that the others are involved, are competent, will complete their fair share of the work, and will make an honest effort to meet commitments.

Trust is important in teams because it lowers transaction costs (Watson-Manheim & Belanger, 2002). Individuals, who do not trust fellow team members, are more likely to monitor or double check each other's work to insure the quality of the team's output. This self-protective activity increases the amount of time and resources needed to complete a project. In virtual teams, trust becomes an important component in preventing psychological distance (Snow, Snell & Davison, 1996) and it increases confidence in relationships by promoting open information exchange (Jarvenpaa, Knoll & Leidner, 1998). Trust is often referred to as the glue that holds the virtual team together.

Not surprisingly, trust has been identified as a determinant of effectiveness in virtual teams (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Sarker, Lau, & Sahay, 2001; Walden & Turban, 2000). Output produced by well-functioning teams should be superior to the output of any single individual since teams allow for better idea generation and the benefits of synergy that occur from multiple viewpoints. …