Thursday, March 09, 2006

Technology: trust in virtual teams

John Gundry wrote a paper on trust in virtual teams trying to 'unpeel the onion about trust'. He states people will have a hard time trusting eachother unless they've met. And further in the article: "it is easier to be suspicious of people when they are out of the line of sight. "

I disagree here: I think that the crux of web2.0 is a change of paradigm- it changes trust and the need to meet face-to-face before you can trust someone (even though it might be true for the past and for lots of people, it is not a general truth). Yet, it is a skill to be learned/a mindset to be taken on to be comfortable with people's reaction (or non-reaction) when they are out of the line of sight.

What I like is that in point 6 he states that the first component of trust is predictability, we use the word 'trust' to mean that we believe people will act in predictably good or positive manner. That's exactly how I unpeel trust: it means you know how a person will react (because you've seen it happening, because the person resembles a previous experiences, etc.). 'We can make judgements that others are predictably good or predictably bad through having communicated enough with them.' A team member is trustworthy if he/she:
- Acts in our and the team's best interest
- Is trustful
- Keeps his/her promises or tells us when they can't keep them
- Respects the citation and/or protection of information we send them
- Shares mutually -valuable information with us

Thinking outloud: in communities of practice and web2.0 trust seems to work differently. Especially bloggers seem to have be ready to exchange ideas/opinions on the basis of reading each other's blogs, processes which could take much longer to build trust face-to-face.

It might be nice to make the link to another article on communication and trust in global virtual teams by Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa and Dorothy E. Leidner which also explores the challenges of creating and maintaining trust a global virtual team whose members transcend time, space and culture, in a study comparing high and low-trust teams and looking at the levels of trust at the beginning and end of a team task. They introduce the notion of swift trust: imported expectations of trust from other settings with which they are familiar. This means that if I've been a participant of 10 online forums, when entering the 11th forum, I bring the trust (again: expectations on predicted behaviour of other people) I have built through participating in the other 10 fora. Which explains that once people get more experiences with working virtually, the 'hard time to trust each other unless they have met' will shift. Swift trust de-emphasizes the interpersonal dimensions and is based initially on broad categorical social structures and later on action. (because high imported trust teams can still end up with low trust at the end, if people did not participate as expected).

On a practical note as tip for facilitators: a nice way of demonstrating the fragility of trust to a group is by metaphore is by taking a paper, crushing it and comparing the effort it takes to crush it to the effort it takes to get the paper straight again.

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