Scaffolding Solutions to Business Problems: Trust Development as a Learning Process

Scaffolding Solutions to Business Problems: Trust Development as a Learning Process

Herbert Remidez (University of Dallas, USA), Antonie Stam (University of Missouri, USA) and James M. Laffey (University of Missouri, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-459-8.ch012
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Teams whose interactions are mediated entirely via internet-based communication, virtual teams, are becoming commonplace in businesses. Although trust has been identified as key for virtual teams to work effectively, researchers have not developed scalable methods that consistently promote trust. This study examines the formation of trust perceptions, which is inherently a learning process. Strategies employed to promote more traditional definitions of learning can be used to promote trust development. In this paper, the authors investigate how a strategy of modifying the design of the communication system for virtual teams can be use to promote perceptions related to trust. The authors conduct an experiment to examine the impact of a template-driven messaging system to scaffold the development of the three antecedents of trust—integrity, benevolence, and ability—within a virtual team environment and communication activity. The study shows that participants who used the template-driven messaging system perceived their team members as having a higher level of ability than those who used the regular system. Moreover, users of the template-driven environment authored more messages and read a greater percentage of the messages, suggesting that messaging scaffolds were successful in improving the flow of information and fostering an environment favorable to trust development.
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Electronically mediated communication promises to continue to grow in overall volume and importance. It is not surprising that the challenge of creating an environments in which virtual teams can flourish and perform effectively has caught attention in both industry and academia. The steady growth of the digital organization with its temporary and distributed work combined with Internet-based tools continuing to become more sophisticated, virtual teams are likely to become more important in the future (Te'eni, 2001). Given that virtual teams interact entirely via computer-based systems, part of the solution to the problem of building a more effective virtual organization might lie in the design of the information systems these teams utilize. Well-designed communication support tools that affect not only the way in which a message is delivered but also the message itself can play a central role in creating an effective virtual team environment. In addition to drawing upon the existing body of literature in IS, one strategy for advancing our understanding of how to facilitate trust development in computer-mediated teams is to draw upon the strategy of scaffolding, which has been used successfully in other disciplines. The theoretical foundations of scaffolding provide a lens though which works previously conceptualized as separate areas, trust development and learning, can be viewed as jointly grappling with the same issue.

The purpose of this paper is to introduce the novel perspective that trust formation within groups is inherently a learning process. To illustrate the utility of this perspective we present the results of a study designed to investigate the impact of a system based on this perspective. The study involved the use of a template-driven asynchronous communication support tool designed to promote the antecedents of trust within virtual teams, thus providing useful information to software developers regarding their design of future communication support systems. We next review the theoretical foundations of learning and trust development that underlie the design of a new computer-based communication support system and advance a research model and hypotheses. We then report on an empirical study examining the effectiveness of this new communication tool. The paper concludes with the discussion, implications, limitations and future directions for research in this area.

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