Academic journal article Competition Forum

Facilitating Trust in Virtual Teams: The Role of Awareness

Academic journal article Competition Forum

Facilitating Trust in Virtual Teams: The Role of Awareness

Article excerpt


Virtual teams have been adopted by organizations to gain competitive advantages in this global economy. This study investigated the factors that facilitate trust in virtual teams. Both structural and process variables were proposed to influence trust development in distributed work groups. Results based on 7 globally distributed engineering design teams showed that perceived task interdependence and communication frequency had positive effects on perceived level of awareness. Additionally, perceived task interdependence and awareness were positively associated with trust. Further analyses suggest that awareness is an important mediating variable linking task structure and trust in virtual teams.

Keywords: Virtual teams, trust, awareness, task interdependence, communication frequency


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 flexibility and agility that are much needed for businesses to cope with the fierce competition in a global market (Applegate, 1999; Davidow & Malone, 1992; Montoya, Massey, Hung, & Crisp, 2009). While virtual teams provide promising benefits, they 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), lead to severe difficulties in establishing effective trusting relationships (Bishop, 1999; Dubé & 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 renders communicating and coordinating with distant teammates difficult tasks. 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. In a traditional co-located work setting, it is relatively easy for people to stay updated due to physical proximity. However, when people collaborate 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, scheduling meetings can be more difficult (Cramton, 1997). As a result, unlike traditional co-located teams, virtual teams are short of those genuine channels to stay aware 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 investigate 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). …

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