Impact of Trust on Communication in Global Virtual Teams

Impact of Trust on Communication in Global Virtual Teams

Päivi Lohikoski (Industrial Engineering and Management, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland), Jaakko Kujala (Industrial Engineering and Management, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland), Harri Haapasalo (Industrial Engineering and Management, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland), Kirsi Aaltonen (Industrial Engineering and Management, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland), and Leena Ala-Mursula (Institute of Health Sciences, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/IJKBO.2016010101
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This study aims to research the impact of impersonal and interpersonal trust on communication among virtual teams. A multi-method case study was conducted, with data provided by 94 organisation members in a global telecommunication company with a long history of virtual ways of working. The case study consisted of semi-structured interviews, an electronic survey, focus group interviews and document reviews. The main finding is that impersonal trust is essential for the development of interpersonal trust in virtual teams (VTs) and for communication among VTs. Furthermore, strong interpersonal affective trust among employees within each site negatively affects VTs' communication. This study suggests that the role of impersonal trust is more significant in virtual organisations than in regular organisations because impersonal trust acts as an enabler for the development of interpersonal trust and affects communication in VTs at a fundamental level. Results from previous studies are contradictory. Theoretically, the field of communication and trust in virtual teams is still in its infancy. This paper is a thorough multi-method study about the impact of impersonal and interpersonal trust on communication.
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Virtual teams (VT`s) are teams that use communication technology to work across locational, temporal and relational boundaries to accomplish shared tasks (Martins, Gilson, & Maynard, 2004) which are often complex and requiring expert knowledge (Kirkman & Mathieu, 2005). Particularly engineering industries depend on the efficiency of their knowledge management practices (Sharma & Singh, 2015), enabling knowledge to be created, stored, disseminated, and used efficiently throughout the organization (Huang, Lee & Wang, 1999). This all requires efficient communication practices (Denton, 2012). Virtual expert teams collaborating globally by ICT tools are fairly easy to build; therefore, they offer fast solutions in integrating expert teams across geographical distances and different time zones (Holtzman & Anderberg, 2011; de Jong et al., 2008; Cooper, 2001) to work for a certain project or to work together long term.

While it is common for teams to meet face to face once at the beginning of the project, sometimes VTs never meet physically (Te’eni, Carey & Zhang, 2007). Lack of face to face interaction typically poses additional challenges to communication and development of trust (Zigurs, 2003; Holste & Fields, 2010). Effective communication is needed in securing continuous functioning and information flow about current issues, future changes and new goals.

Trust plays a central role in the effective functioning of virtual teams (Jarvenpaa, Shaw & Staples, 2004; Zigurs, 2003), and it has been thoroughly examined in previous research (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Jarvenpaa et al., 2004; Drouin, Bourgault & Gervais.,2010; Dirks & Ferrin, 2001; Bergiel et al., 2013; Malhotra, Majchrzak, & Rosen, 2007; Dennis, Meola & Hall, 2013; Holste & Fields, 2010; Mitchell & Zigurs, 2009; Peters & Manz, 2007; Chen, Wu, Ma, & Knight, 2011). However the interactive effects of trust (Dirks & Ferrin; Brahm & Kunze, 2012), the role and impact of organizational training and support systems´ impact on virtual teams (Drouin et al., 2010; Vanhala & Ahteela, 2011) still need further studies. Trust is essential to all relationships including organisational ones and it is all based on communication—how, when and what you are communicating (Denton, 2012). Bottom line is that trust is necessary for sharing knowledge between individuals (e.g. Anantatmula & Kanungo, 2010; Bergiel et al., 2013; Malhotra et al., 2007; Dennis et al., 2013; Holste & Fields, 2010; Mitchell & Zigurs, 2009; Peters & Manz, 2007; Chen et al., 2011). In research there are controversial results in trust, which requires further studies in order to achieve theoretically grounded understanding (Martins et al., 2004; Seppänen, 2014). It has been previously claimed that virtual teams cannot transmit rich information; however, recent studies have shown that virtual communication can be rich if promoted by high level of trust or strong ties among team members (Harwick et al., 2013; Lohikoski et al., 2014). Hence, understanding trust in different contexts is important not only theoretically, but also in practice (Jarvenpaa et al., 2004).

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