Reading Notes on Communications and Trust in Global Virtual Teams

Can we trust people who we don’t know, have never seen or met, and live in another part of the world altogether? Julie, Vemmy and Gekling would probably say no, since they wrote about Charles Handy’s paper. They would echo John Naisbitt’s ‘High Trust needs High Touch’ mantra – the more virtual an organization, the higher the need to meet in person.

However, Jarvenpaa and Leidner would beg to differ. It seems they found an ‘exception’- the formation of ‘swift trust’ – however fragile and temporal among globally dispersed teams. These teams had no common past or future, were culturally diverse and geographically dispersed and only communicated electronically. In a way, if Charles were to be believed, trust would never form in such teams.

But Jarvenpaa and Leidner did find such teams forming trust. The two factors that foster swift trust among globally dispersed teams include communications and actions – both at the onset of team formation and in order to sustain it.

At the onset of team formation, social communication (social exchanges and pleasantries), and enthusiasm were the two key communication activities that helped foster trust. While individual initiative and ability of the team to cope with technical uncertainty were the two key actions that helped in team trust formation.

Then to keep the high trust levels, high trust teams used predictable communication schedules and substantial and timely responses to keep members abreast of team affairs. In terms of actions, high trust teams used positive leadership, and phlegmatic (strong solid temperament) responses to crises, and successfully transitioning from social and procedural to a task oriented approach.

Some other related insights of the paper include:
1. Swift trust could also be the result of ‘importation’ when an outsider prespecifies the pattern of behavior or when a homogenous team shares the same a priori expectations of appropriate behavior.

2. The use of electronically facilitated communications diminishes any cultural differences. The asynchronous mode gives people more time to process messages and to respond to it. There might be fewer language errors particularly from non-native speakers too. In addition, there won’t be ‘regional accents’ that increase any cultural differences.