A Virtual Organisation (VO) or Virtual Enterprise is a loosely-coupled group of collaborating organisations, acting to some extent as though they were part of a single organisation. This implies that they exhibit some properties of a conventional organisation without actually being one. In practice, this involves overcoming organisational boundaries, which tend to make collaborative working difficult. The authors of this chapter propose that this is a socio-technical problem, requiring both a technical (software) infrastructure and a sociological approach to building, deploying and operating the VOs supported by it. This joint approach can help to overcome some of the problems associated with collaborative working, ranging from poorly coordinated activity, to ineffective problem solving and decision- making. The authors describe a socio-technical approach to building and operating VOs in highly dynamic environments and present two factual scenarios from the chemical and health industries. They describe a platform supporting such VOs, which was developed as part of the EPSRC E-Science Pilot Project GOLD.
The main trend in the organisational behaviour research puts forward the importance of a minimum level of trust for the success of any form of collaboration (Bijlsma-Frankema & Costa, 2005). Numerous empirical studies (Clases et al., 2003; Das & Teng, 1998; McKnight et al., 2004) have defined trust as a primary determinant of collaborative success. At the same time, Köller (1988) and McLain & Hackman (1999) have demonstrated that control reduces trust. This effect is due to certain social attribution mechanisms. First, mere presence of a control system causes the perception of partners as less trustworthy. Second, cooperation in the presence of a control system is attributed to the constraints imposed by the control system rather than trustworthiness, which inhibits the development of trust (Coletti et al., 2005). Some researchers (Das & Teng, 2001; Şengűn & Wasti, 2007), who reject the negative influence of control on trust development, believe that the negative effects of control systems are due to certain limitations of the previous studies. Coletti et al. (2005) even posit that control may enhance the level of trust between the partners.
It is clear that a collaborative environment, such as a grid-based community (GC), represents a challenge in terms of control. Attempts both to identify optimal levels of control mechanisms and to consider the impact of such mechanisms on interpersonal trust are undertaken (Coletti et al., 2005). The specificity of the GC stems from the following characteristics. First, a GC does not provide fixed paths towards the resources needed. Second, the resources per se are not constantly available, which results in the absence of the prescribed interaction patterns. Third, there is a high need for formal control mechanisms to maintain an efficient functioning of the community. Those mechanisms assure that all the processes within a GC run smoothly. Fourth, the resources exploited may be of a high level of confidence. Hence, resource sharing (an expression of trust and shared psychological ownership) and resource protection (an expression of personal control and individual psychological ownership) of resources may come to conflict. Any interaction contains an element of risk due to the fact that an interaction partner might not reciprocate (Stewart, 2003). Mediated interaction that characterises the GC context has a significantly higher level of risk as compared to face-to-face interaction (Ratnasingam, 2005). This inevitably brings up the questions of the routes of the risk reduction. Depending upon a conceptual position, both control and trust may be considered risk reducing mechanisms.
According to a few though rigorous empirical studies (Bijlsma-Frankema & Costa, 2005; Khodyakov, 2007; Şengűn & Wasti, 2007), trust does not develop without control. The relationship between trust and control is understood in the perspective of duality (Figure 1). In particular, trust is defined as a positive expectation about the outcome of an interaction based on the benevolence of the other party involved (Möllering, 2005). Trust is conceptualised through cognitive and affective dimensions (Mayer et al., 1995). Control is defined as a positive expectation about the outcome of an interaction based on the structural influences of the social system on the other party involved (Möllering, 2005). Control is conceptualised through internal and external dimensions (Berrenberg, 1987). The latter is, in turn subdivided into formal and social control (Khodyakov, 2007). There is empirical evidence that trust and control mutually influence each other. Thanks to the verification of the partner’s reputation, competencies and other capacities, formal control provides a basis for the cognitive trust development, which is nurtured by knowledge of the partner’s reliability (Coletti et al., 2005). Informal control influences both cognitive and affective trust (Şengűn & Wasti, 2007). Trust, in turn, makes possible the use of new policies and standards (measures of formal control), etc. (idem). (Figure 2)