The Impact of Ability and Participation on Trustworthiness and Task Performance in Virtual Teams

The Impact of Ability and Participation on Trustworthiness and Task Performance in Virtual Teams

Christie M. Fuller (Louisiana Tech University, USA), Douglas P. Twitchell (Illinois State University, USA), Kent Marett (Mississippi State University, USA) and A. J. Burns (Louisiana Tech University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsodit.2012040101
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The relationship between trust and task performance in virtual teams is well established. Currently, studies examine key antecedent to trust in groups, the perceived ability of other group members. While it has been shown that perceived ability of teammates contributes to trust, little is known about how the perceptions of ability are formed in virtual teams. In this study, teams performed a decision-making task in a synchronous computer-mediated communication environment. As teams were limited to verbal communication, the authors examined the relationship between participant ability and verbal communication amount, as well as team member perceptions of their partners’ ability based on the amount of participation. The results show that participants who perceive themselves to have higher ability communicate more, whereas those who speak more are rated by their teammates to have lower ability. Based on the results, post hoc analysis explored the relationship between reduced participation and perceived ability.
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Virtual teams are widely used in today’s workplace and the use of virtual teams in organizations has been extensively studied (Kasper-Fuehrer & Ashkanasy, 2001; Lin, Standing, & Liu, 2008; Martins, Gilson, & Maynard, 2004). Virtual teams are defined as groups of people “who interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose,” who are typically “working across space, time, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies” (Rusman, van Bruggen, Sloep, & Koper, 2010, pp. 6-7). Variables that are frequently accounted for in virtual team research can be classified as inputs, process factors or outputs of virtual team interactions. Key inputs include team member knowledge, skills and abilities, team diversity, group size, task characteristics, media characteristics and culture (Corbitt, Gardiner, & Wright, 2004; Lin et al., 2008; Martins et al., 2004). These inputs, along with process variables such as trust, communication, cohesiveness and goal setting have the potential to impact outcomes of virtual teams. Key outputs that have been previously identified include performance and satisfaction (Dirks, 1999; Lin et al., 2008; Martins et al., 2004).

There are several potential advantages to employing virtual teams, including better task performance, improved access to information, and the overcoming of time and space constraints. While virtual teams can be quite useful to organizations, factors such as a lack of nonverbal and paraverbal communication cues, an absence of shared history, and varying expectations of future interaction pose challenges in this environment (Kasper-Fuehrer & Ashkanasy, 2001; Lin et al., 2008; Martins et al., 2004; Rusman et al., 2010).

Following from those challenges, virtual team researchers frequently suggest that the establishment of trust between team members is crucial for success. In fact, some have stated that virtual teams void of trust are doomed to fail (Knights, Noble, Vurdubakis, & Willmott, 2001). Previous research has examined how trust is formed in virtual teams and has supported its importance (among other factors) to the success or failure of these groups (Aubert & Kelsey, 2003; Jang, 2009; Kanawattanachai & Yoo, 2002; Lee et al., 2010; Lin et al., 2008; Mitchell & Zigurs, 2009; Peters & Manz, 2007; Walther, Bunz, & Bazarova, 2005). However, as mentioned, virtual team members often have little interaction with each other beyond the communication sent and received across a network to judge one another by. Thus, for virtual team members, trust is primarily based on the network enabled communication shared between team members. The focus of this study is on the perceived trustworthiness that virtual team members attribute to their partners based on participation in group discussions.

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