Academic journal article Advances in Competitiveness Research

Facilitating Trust in Virtual Teams: The Role of Awareness

Academic journal article Advances in Competitiveness Research

Facilitating Trust in Virtual Teams: The Role of Awareness

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Recent development of information and communication technology has enabled organizations to pull resources from all over the world via virtual teams. In virtual teams, people collaborate with each other without physically gathering in the same place as in traditional co-located teams and their communication and coordination are primarily conducted via electronic channels (Hertel, Geisterb, & Konradt, 2005; Lipnack & Stamps, 2000). Freed from geographic limitations, virtual teams offer the flexibility and agility that are much needed for businesses to cope with the fierce competition in a global market (Applegate, 1999; Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Davidow & Malone, 1992; Montoya, Massey, Hung, & Crisp, 2009; Wigand, Picot, & Reichwald, 1997). While virtual teams provide promising benefits, the special characteristics of virtual teams also bring challenges in many areas, such as leadership, conflict management, team identity, and cohesion (see (Hertel et al., 2005) for a review). One of the major challenges virtual teams face is the development of trust.

Trust has been deemed as essential to collaborative work (Alge, Wiethoff, & Klein, 2003; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Morris, Marshall, & Rainer, 2002). However, physical dispersion, coupled with fluid membership, cultural differences, and lack of prior history in many virtual teams (Lipnack & Stamps, 2000) can lead to severe difficulties in establishing effective trusting relationships (Bishop, 1999; Dube & Robey, 2009; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998). One of the key elements in trust development is repeated interaction between trusting parties (McAllister, 1995). However, the lack of physical proximity presents severe challenges for virtual team members to communicate and coordinate with their distant counterparts. Therefore, it is imperative to help virtual teams meet these communication challenges in order to facilitate the development of trust.

One specific communication problem that virtual team participants face is awareness deficit - the lack of knowledge about the current state of distant teammates' work related to the group project. Without timely updates on work status it difficult to coordinate with remote partners and fully take advantage of the dispersed resources and expertise. Awareness is essential for collaborative work. Ethnographical research on workplace found that collaborators constantly keep each other updated on task-related activities (Harper, Hughes, & Shapiro, 1989; Heath & Luff, 1991). By staying aware of the current state of the project and the activities of coworkers, people are able to adjust and orient their own and their partners' work toward a common goal. In a traditional colocated work setting, it is relatively easy for people to stay updated due to physical proximity. However, with people collaborating from different places, such as in virtual teams, maintaining awareness presents a severe challenge. Spontaneous connections, informal encounters, and peripheral observations, taken for granted in traditional co-located teams, are difficult, if at all possible, when collaborating partners are in different places in a virtual team. In addition, the locations of virtual team members may span across several time zones. Scheduling meetings can be extremely difficult (Cramton, 1997). As a result, unlike traditional co-located teams, virtual teams may find it difficult to stay apprised of each other's progress or problems. It may further prevent them from responding to those internal issues in a timely fashion. This problem of lack of awareness presents a big challenge of coordination in virtual teams.

This study aims to study factors important to awareness and trust in virtual teams. In particular, task interdependence is regarded as a group design parameter that dictates group interaction (Hackman & Morris, 1975; Thompson, 1967; Van de Ven, Delbecq, & Koenig, 1976). …

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