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This paper explores the challenges of creating and maintaining trust in a global virtual team whose members transcend time, space, and culture. The challenges are highlighted by integrating recent literature on work teams, computer-mediated communication groups, cross-cultural communication, and interpersonal and organizational trust. To explore these challenges empirically, we report on a series of descriptive case studies on global virtual teams whose members were separated by location and culture, were challenged by a common collaborative project, and for whom the only economically and practically viable communication medium was asynchronous and synchronous computer-mediated communication. The results suggest that global virtual teams may experience a form of "swift" trust, but such trust appears to be very fragile and temporal. The study raises a number of issues to be explored and debated by future research. Pragmatically, the study describes communication behaviors that might facilitate trust in global virtual teams.
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Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams
Author(s): Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa and Dorothy E. Leidner
Reviewed work(s):
Organization Science,
Vol. 10, No. 6, Special Issue: Communication Processes for
Virtual Organizations (Nov. - Dec., 1999), pp. 791-815
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Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa * Dorothy E. Leidner
Graduate School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, sjarvenpaa
INSEAD, Boulevard de Constance, 77305 Fontainebleau, France, dorothy.leidner@inseadfr
This paper explores the challenges of creating and maintaining
trust in a global virtual team whose members transcend time,
space, and culture. The challenges are highlighted by integrat-
ing recent literature on work teams, computer-mediated com-
munication groups, cross-cultural communication, and inter-
personal and organizational trust. To explore these challenges
empirically, we report on a series of descriptive case studies on
global virtual teams whose members were separated by location
and culture, were challenged by a common collaborative pro-
ject, and for whom the only economically and practically viable
communication medium was asynchronous and synchronous
computer-mediated communication. The results suggest that
global virtual teams may experience a form of "swift" trust, but
such trust appears to be very fragile and temporal. The study
raises a number of issues to be explored and debated by future
research. Pragmatically, the study describes communication be-
haviors that might facilitate trust in global virtual teams.
(Global Virtual Teams; Virtual Teams; Global Teams;
Virtual Organizations; Trust; Swift Trust; Computer-
Mediated Communication; Group Development)
... you cannot build network
on electronic
works alone.... If so, ... we will probably
need an entirely
new sociology
of organizations.
and Eccles, 1992, pp. 304-305.
Contrary to Nohria and Eccles's assertion, organiza-
tions are in fact forming virtual project teams that interact
primarily via electronic networks (Grenier and Metes
1995, Lipnack and Stamps 1997). VeriFone, a multina-
tional company, is reported to rely on teams that interact
electronically to run its everyday business. Company
management, including its top executives, are distributed
geographically (Stoddard and Donnellon 1997). Micro-
soft uses virtual teams to support major global corporate
customer sales and postsales services, as do other orga-
nizations that service global clients with interdependent
customer needs crossing country boundaries (Jarvenpaa
et al. 1995).
A virtual team is an evolutionary form of a network
organization (Miles and Snow 1986) enabled by advances
in information and communication technology (Davidow
and Malone 1992, Jarvenpaa and Ives 1994). The concept
of virtual implies permeable interfaces and boundaries;
project teams that rapidly form, reorganize, and dissolve
when the needs of a dynamic marketplace change; and
individuals with differing competencies who are located
across time, space, and cultures (Mowshowitz 1997,
Kristof et al. 1995). As companies expand globally, face
increasing time compression in product development, and
use more foreign-based subcontracting labor, (Peters
1992, Stewart 1994), virtual teams promise the flexibility,
responsiveness, lower costs, and improved resource util-
ization necessary to meet ever-changing task require-
ments in highly turbulent and dynamic global business
environments (Mowshowitz 1997, Snow et al. 1996).
While the promises are laudable, a dark side to the new
form also exists: such dysfunctions as low individual
commitment, role overload, role ambiguity, absenteeism,
and social loafing may be exaggerated in a virtual context
(O'Hara-Devereaux and Johansen 1994). Moreover, cus-
tomers might perceive a lack of permanency, reliability,
and consistency in virtual forms (Mowshowitz 1997).
Recommending only limited use of the virtual setting in
global teams, some inculcate initial lengthy face-to-face
gatherings with repeated same-time and same-place en-
counters interspersed throughout the project (De Meyer
1991). Handy (1995) questions whether virtual teams can
even function effectively in the absence of frequent face-
to-face interaction.
The heart of Handy's argument centers on trust and a
belief that "trust needs touch" (p. 46). Paradoxically
though, only trust can prevent the geographical and or-
ganizational distances of global team members from be-
coming psychological distances (O'Hara-Devereaux and
1047-7039/99/1006/0791/$05.00 ORGANIZATION SCIENCE,
? 1999 INFORMS
1526-5455 electronic ISSN Vol. 10, No. 6, November-December 1999, pp. 791-815
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and Trust
Johansen 1994): trust allows people to take part in risky
activities that they cannot control or monitor and yet
where they may be disappointed by the actions of others
(Deutch 1958, Luhmann 1988, Lewis and Weigert 1985,
Bradach and Eccles 1989, Gambetta 1988).
This paper reports an exploratory study that examined
trust in teams that relied on virtual interaction only, un-
confounded by any influences of face-to-face interaction.
The study was guided by three questions. First, can trust
exist in global virtual teams where the team members do
not share any past, or have any expectation of future,
interaction? Second, how might trust be developed in
such teams? Third, what communication behaviors may
facilitate the development of trust? The global virtual
teams had members who (1) were physically located in
different countries, (2) interacted through the use of
computer-mediated communication technologies (elec-
tronic mail, chat rooms, etc.), and (3) had no prior history
of working together. The next section of the paper will
review relevant literature. The third section presents the
methodology. The fourth section reports the analyses.
The fifth section presents a discussion of the results, and
the sixth section concludes the paper.
Conceptual Foundations
Following Kristof et al. (1995), we define a global virtual
team to be a temporary,
culturally diverse, geographically
dispersed, electronically communicating work group
(Figure 1). The notion of temporary in the definition de-
scribes teams whose members may have never worked
together before and who may not expect to work together
again as a group (Lipnack and Stamps 1997, Jarvenpaa
and Ives 1994). The characterization
of virtual teams as
global implies culturally diverse and globally spanning
Figure 1 Definition: Global Virtual Team
of Group
Permanent Temporary
O-OAe- (Common History ~~~~~(No
(Common History No Common Future)
,xe ~~~~~~~~~~~Common
Electronically mediated
Mix of face lo face and electronically mediated
Face to Face
Similarity in
Context .
Diversity in
Culture Global Virtual
Geography Team
members who can think and act in concert with the di-
versity of the global environment (Jackson et al. 1995,
DeSanctis and Poole 1997). Finally, it is a heavy reliance
on computer-mediated communication technology that
allows members separated by time and space to engage
in collaborative work.
Trust in Teams
Can trust exist in global virtual teams? Noting the lack
of shared social context in such teams, much of the theo-
retical and empirical literature on interpersonal and or-
ganizational trust would suggest a negative response to
this question.
Cummings and Bromiley (1996) maintain that a person
trusts a group when that person believes that the group
"(a) makes a good-faith effort to behave in accordance
with any commitments both explicit or implicit, (b) is
honest in whatever negotiations preceded such commit-
ments, and (c) does not take excessive advantage of an-
other even when the opportunity is available" (p. 303).
Several factors, such as shared social norms, repeated in-
teractions, and shared experiences, have been suggested
to facilitate the development of trust (Bradach
and Eccles
1988, Mayer et al. 1995, Lewis and Weigert 1985). An-
other factor asserted to promote trust and cooperation is
the anticipation of future association (Powell 1990). Such
anticipation of future association is higher among group
members who are collocated than among physically dis-
persed members. Colocation, or physical proximity more
generally, is said to reinforce social similarity, shared
ues, and expectations, and to increase the immediacy of
threats from failing to meet commitments (Latane et al.
1995). Furthermore, face-to-face encounters are consid-
ered irreplaceable for both building trust and repairing
shattered trust (Nohria and Eccles 1992, O'Hara-
Devereaux and Johansen 1994).
Yet, trust is pivotal in a global virtual team to reduce the
high levels of uncertainty endemic to the global and tech-
nologically based environment. How might trust be de-
veloped in such teams?
The developmental views of trust are closely inter-
twined with the relationship development processes
(Lewicki and Bunker 1995). McGrath's (1991) Time, In-
teraction, and Performance (TIP) theory describes work
groups as time-based, multifunctional, and multimodal
social systems. Effective groups are engaged simulta-
neously and continuously in three functions: (1) produc-
tion (problem solving and task performance), (2) member
support (member inclusion, participation, loyalty, com-
mitment), and (3) group well-being (interaction,
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E. LEIDNER Communication
and Trust
roles, power, politics). Member support and group well-
being relate directly to relationship development. Teams
carry out the three functions by means of activities that
relate to four possible modes: (Mode 1) inception and
acceptance of a project, (Mode 2) problem solving,
(Mode 3) conflict resolution, and (Mode 4) project exe-
cution. The modes/functions are not a fixed sequence of
phases, but rather are dependent on the team, tasks, tech-
nology, time, and other environmental contingencies
and Hollingshead 1994). McGrath's TIP theory
(1991) suggests that a team with no past history that is
working on a challenging problem with much technolog-
ical and environmental uncertainty (such as a global vir-
tual team) will have to engage in all four functions and
modes to avoid detrimental effects on performance. Yet,
at the same time, because the technological environment
may constrain and limit the group's functions and modes
(McGrath 1990, Warkentin
et al. 1997), the development
of trust may be inhibited.
The media richness (e.g., Daft et al. 1987) and social
presence theories (e.g., Short et al. 1976) also question
the possibility of relationship development, and subse-
quent trust development, in virtual teams. These theories
suggest that computer-based communication media may
eliminate the type of communication cues that individuals
use to convey trust, warmth, attentiveness, and other in-
terpersonal affections. However, contrary
to the theories,
empirical studies have found relational information shar-
ing in computer-mediated teams (Walther 1992, 1994,
1995, 1997; Adler 1995; and Chidambaram 1996). Ac-
cording to Walther' s social information
processing theory
(1996, 1997), computer-mediated communication does
not differ from face-to-face communication in terms of
the capability of social information exchange, but rather
in terms of a slower rate of transfer. Others studies have
concurred that communication is more a function of the
context, setting, and timing than the characteristics
of the
media (Zack 1993, Markus 1994, Parks and Floyd 1996,
Ngwenyama and Lee 1997).
Walther found that social discussion, depth, and inti-
macy were greater
in computer-mediated
groups than in face-to-face groups, even for groups with
geographically dispersed and culturally diverse partners
who had never met face-to-face (Walther 1995, 1997).
Building on the Social Identification/Deindividuation the-
ory (SIDE) (Lea and Spears 1992, Lea et al. 1992),
Walther (1997) developed a hyperpersonal model to ex-
plain his results. The SIDE theory argues that
people cate-
gorize themselves as either part of the in-group or out-
group based on the characteristics of others in the group
(Deaux 1996, Francis 1991, Turner et al. 1983). Similar-
ity with others positively reinforces members' own iden-
tities and contributes to their willingness to cooperate.
The SIDE theory suggests that in the absence of individ-
uating cues about others, as is the case in computer-
mediated communication, individuals build stereotypical
impressions of others based on limited information (Lea
and Spears 1992). Walther (1997) acknowledges this ten-
dency to resort to categorical information processing, ov-
erattributions on minimal social cues, and idealization of
the communication partners
in computer-mediated com-
munication groups, but also predicts that the effects from
deindividualization should decrease in the face of infor-
mation on individual differences, particularly
if the team
has diverse membership. Yet, the greater the team mem-
ber diversity, the more time will be required for team
members to form strong bonds (DeSanctis and Poole
1997). Moreover, some teams may develop strong bonds
and trust despite heterogeneity and short time spans,
whereas others may not (DeSanctis and Poole 1994,
Poole and DeSanctis 1992). Thus, the third question we
will explore is what communication behaviors enable
trust to be established.
Cross-Cultural Communication
The global nature of virtual teams merits a discussion of
possible cross-cultural differences in communication be-
haviors. While there is a wealth of research on computer-
mediated communication and on cross-cultural commu-
nication, there is a paucity of research on cross-cultural
computer-mediated communication. As part of the third
research question, we will consider the possible influence
of cultural differences on the communication behaviors
of global virtual team members.
Individuals from different cultures vary in terms of
their communication and group behaviors, including the
motivation to seek and disclose individuating information
and the need to engage in self-categorization (Gudykunst
1997). One major dimension of cultural variability is
individualism-collectivism (Hofstede 1980). In individ-
ualistic cultures, the needs, values, and goals of the in-
dividual take precedence over the needs, values, and
goals of the in-group. In collectivist cultures, the needs,
values, and goals of the in-group take precedence over
the needs, values, and goals of the individual (Gudykunst
1997, Hofstede 1980). The research suggests that indi-
viduals from individualistic cultures tend to be less con-
cerned with self-categorizing, are less influenced by
group membership, have greater skills in entering and
leaving new groups, and engage in more open and precise
communication than individuals from collectivist cultures
(Hofstede 1980, 1991; Hall 1976). In addition, the will-
ingness to respond to ambiguous messages, interpreted
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by Pearce (1974) to be a trusting behavior, has been
shown to be higher among members of individualistic
cultures than among members of collectivist cultures
(Gudykunst et al. 1996). These findings suggest that in-
dividuals from individualistic cultures might be more
ready to trust others than individuals from collectivist cul-
tures in computer-mediated communication environ-
Finally, previous cultural exposure is an important fac-
tor influencing communication behavior (Wiseman et al.
1989). People with high confidence in their knowledge of
other cultures tend to be more willing to explore cultural
topics. This might suggest that people who are more cul-
turally experienced might seek and disclose individuating
information more than those who are less culturally ex-
perienced. The social dialog in turn might help develop
trust on the team, at least in the eyes of the culturally
experienced person.
Swift Trust in Temporary
The theory of swift trust suggests that the research ques-
tions of whether trust is possible and how it might be
developed via communication behavior may be the wrong
questions to ask. The more appropriate questions might
be: from where is trust
imported to the global virtual
and how is trust maintained via electronic communica-
Meyerson et al. (1996) developed the concept of
"swift" trust for temporary teams whose existence, like
those of global virtual teams, is formed around a common
task with a finite life span. Such teams consist of members
with diverse skills, a limited history of working together,
and little prospect of working together again in the future.
The tight deadlines under which these teams work leave
little time for relationship building. Because the time
pressure hinders the ability of team members to develop
expectations of others based on firsthand information,
members import expectations of trust from other settings
with which they are familiar. Analogous to the SIDE and
hyperpersonal model, individuals in temporary groups
make initial use of category-driven information process-
ing to form stereotypical impressions of others.
After the team has begun to interact,
trust is maintained
by a "highly active, proactive, enthusiastic, generative
style of action" (Meyerson et al. 1996, p. 180). High lev-
els of action have also been shown to be associated with
high-performing teams (Iacono and Weisband 1997). Ac-
tion strengthens trust in a self-fulfilling fashion: action
will maintain members' confidence that the team is able
to manage the uncertainty, risk, and points of vulnerabil-
ity, yet the conveyance of action has as a requisite the
communication of individual activities. In summary,
whereas traditional conceptualizations of trust are based
strongly on interpersonal relationships, swift trust de-
emphasizes the interpersonal dimensions and is based ini-
tially on broad categorical social structures and later on
action. Because members initially import trust
rather than
develop trust, trust might attain its zenith at the project's
inception (Meyerson et al. 1996).
Developed to explain behavior in temporary teams
such as film crews, theater and architectural groups, pres-
idential commissions, senate select committees, and
cockpit crews (Meyerson et al. 1996), the theory of swift
trust assumes clear role divisions among members who
have well-defined specialties. Inconsistent role behavior
and "blurring" of roles erode trust. Moreover, the theory
seems to presuppose that participants come from many
different organizations, have periodic face-to-face meet-
ings, and report to a single individual. By contrast, in
global virtual teams, members remain in different loca-
tions and often are accountable to different individuals.
Such teams are assembled less on the basis of members'
specific roles and more on their knowledge differences,
partially related to the geographic location of the individ-
ual who provides the team with greater knowledge of that
environment. These differences may have significant im-
plications for swift trust. In the temporary teams de-
scribed by Meyerson et al. (1996), what is at stake are
the professional reputations of members, the reputations
of the persons to whom the team members report, im-
pending threats from closely knit social and professional
groups to which members and the supervisor belong, and
perceived interdependence among the team members. In
global virtual teams, the reputational and professional
network effects may be weak because of less clearly de-
fined and bounded professional networks and less em-
phasis on roles.
The case study method was chosen to enable us to capture
the social context and dynamics of global virtual teams
in order to explore what communication behaviors ap-
peared to facilitate trust in global virtual teams. Data for
the cases was generated from electronic mail archives and
The global virtual teams were organized via a collabo-
ration of professors of information systems fromn
business programs around the world. Three hundred and
fifty master's students from 28 universities participated
in a global virtual collaboration organized over a period
of six weeks during the spring semester of 1996. Every
continent was involved except Antarctica. The students'
learning objectives were to experience collaboration with
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
others in a virtual setting and to obtain international ex-
posure by working with people from different countries.
Participants were recruited through contacts with profes-
sors who had participated in previous collaborations (see
Knoll and Jarvenpaa 1995). The letter soliciting partici-
pation explicitly stated that one of the conditions for par-
ticipation included having the exercise comprise at least
20% of the students' course grade. To further motivate
the students' participation, the professors were provided
with reports on their students' levels of activity after the
second and fourth weeks. Additionally, a monetary re-
ward ($600) and industry publicity were promised for the
highest performing team.
The students were assigned to teams of four to six peo-
ple in such a manner that each member on a team resided
in a different country. The students from a given univer-
sity were assigned to teams based on the order that their
names appeared on their professor's list. The teams were
self-managing and were charged with completing three
tasks: two voluntary assignments lasting one week each
and a final project lasting four weeks. The students'
course grade as well as the $600 reward were based solely
on the successful completion of the final project. The stu-
dents were also told that each team member would eval-
uate the others' contributions at the end of the final pro-
ject and that this information would be shared with their
The first
two voluntary assignments were
to en-
the participants
to exchange
information about
themselves and gain experience
with the World Wide
Web (WWW) technology platform.
The first
the participants
to send
a description
of themselves
to their
team members. The second required
each team
member to locate one website that
they felt was relevant
to business persons with information
systems (IS) re-
a paragraph explaining
vance of the site.
The third assignment-the final
teams to propose
and develop a WWW
site providing
new service or offering
to IS World Net that
be of
interest to IS practitioners
in all the countries
in which
the members of a particular team resided. The proposal
was to be a three- to five-page justification of the site. (IS
World Net is an electronic community, comprised of IS
practitioners and academicians around the world, that
communicates and disseminates information via the In-
ternet and newsgroups). The students were told that all
team members were to submit the same final deliverable
to their
and the team deliverable
was to rep-
resent the collective efforts of the group.
The final as-
was expected
to take
about 20-30 hours
of each
time over the four-week
The host institution established a WWW site on the In-
ternet (
The purpose of this central repository of information was
to ensure that all students had access to the same infor-
mation at the same time. Students communicated solely
through electronic means. Electronic mail reached the in-
dividual team members via a "team address." Occasion-
ally students used the reply function to respond to mes-
sages sent by individuals, thereby communicating with
that individual alone.
Data Collection and Survey Analyses
Data for the research was provided by the team members'
e-mail message archives, by the members' responses to
the demographic questions in the first exercise, and by
the members' responses to two questionnaires. Students
were notified at the start of the exercise that all e-mail
messages sent to the "team address" were archived. Team
members were sent an electronic survey to complete im-
mediately following the deadline for the second voluntary
exercise (Time 1). The survey was designed to assess the
level of trust in the team. The survey also contained ques-
tions designed to assess various antecedents of trust as
described in Jarvenpaa et al. (1998). A second survey
identical to the first, but with some additional questions
related to outcomes of trust, was sent to the team mem-
bers a day following the deadline for the completed final
project (Time 2). The students were not required
to com-
plete the surveys and were not prodded to do so by their
respective professors. Repeated questionnaire reminders
were perceived to violate the goal of maintaining a real-
istic project atmosphere.
Two separate measures were used to ascertain the level
of trust on the team. One measure was a modified five-
point scale version of Schoorman et al.'s instrument
(1996) based on Mayer et al.'s (1995) overall conceptu-
alization of trust;
the other was a modified five-point scale
measure of trustworthiness from Pearce et al. (1992).
Both instruments were modified to reflect the team, rather
than the original dyad, as the unit of analysis. These mea-
sures capture a general construct of trust. Since the pur-
pose of the study was to explore the nature of trust in
virtual teams, it was important
to have an independently
developed and validated measure of trust.
Data on culture was obtained from responses to the first
team exercise. For all students who provided their birth-
places, the information was coded according to
Hofstede's (1980) classification of countries as having
individualistic or collectivist cultures as follows: students
were considered as coming from an individualistic culture
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E. LEIDNER Communication
and Trust
if they were born and reared in Australia, Austria, Canada
(excluding Quebec), Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great
Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, or
the United States. Individuals were coded as coming from
a collectivist culture if they reported being born in Brazil,
Catalonia, China, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mace-
donia, Pakistan, Philippines, Quebec, Singapore, Spain,
or Vietnam.
Data on international experience was also obtained
from the responses to the first exercise. Students who
spoke only one language and reported
not having traveled
or lived in another
country, and were not married to some-
one from another country, were coded as having no prior
international experience. Students who reported speaking
a second language or who had traveled to other countries
were coded as having moderate international experience.
Students who had lived in a foreign country for at least
one year or who were married
to someone from a country
different from their own were coded as having extensive
international experience.
Before selecting teams for case analysis, a standard item
reliability test was performed to determine the items that
contributed to the reliability of the trust measures. Be-
cause, as mentioned, there were many questions on the
surveys designed to assess variables other than the two
trust measures of interest in the current paper, a factor
analysis was performed before the reliability tests to en-
sure that the trust measures were unique constructs. The
two trust measures did form two separate constructs, al-
though a few items that did not have a loading of greater
than 0.4 on the proper
construct were eliminated. Follow-
ing the factor analysis, the reliability analysis was con-
ducted with the remaining items for the two measures of
To determine if there were differences in perceptions
of trust related to culture at Time 1 or Time 2, t-tests were
conducted. Also, to determine if the individuals with little
versus extreme prior
exposure perceived dif-
ferent levels of team trust at Time 1 or Time 2, t-tests
were conducted. The above tests were conducted at the
individual level of analysis.
Next, the responses of the members of each team were
averaged to form a team measure of trust. All remaining
statistical tests were done at the team level. First, a test
for nonresponse bias was performed. Then, after having
selected only those teams with more than two respondents
on both surveys, we performed
a paired
t-test to determine
if trust changed significantly from Time 1 to Time 2.
Lastly, after having selected the 12 teams for case anal-
ysis, we performed t-tests of trust at Time 1 and Time 2
on each team, computed within each team the interrater
reliability of the team members' perceptions of trust, and
computed the descriptive statistics for the 12 cases.
Case Selection and Analysis
Case analysis was used to answer the original research
questions. First, can trust exist in global virtual teams?
Second, how might trust be developed in such teams?
And third, what are the communication behaviors that
might facilitate the development of trust? Only teams
with more than two respondents on both surveys were
included in the sample to be considered for the case anal-
ysis. Of the 75 teams, 29 teams had two or more members
who completed both the first and the second surveys. The
29 teams were assigned to one of the following catego-
ries: (1) lower than the mean trust of the sample at Time
1 and Time 2 (LoLo); (2) lower than the mean trust at
Time 1, but higher than the mean trust at Time 2 (LoHi);
(3) higher than the mean trust at Time 1, but lower at
Time 2 (HiLo); and (4) higher than the mean at Time 1
and Time 2 (HiHi). Of the 29 teams, ten teams fell into
the LoLo category, four into the LoHi category, five into
the HiLo category, and ten into the HiHi category (see
Figure 2). The three most extreme teams in each category
were chosen for the in-depth case analyses.
Many different approaches to case research have been
advocated, some recommending that researchers
go to the
field without preconceived notions of research questions,
concepts, variables, etc., (Glaser and Strauss 1967) and
others recommending predetermined research questions,
themes, and data collection plans (Eisenhardt 1989, Miles
Figure 2 The Change in Team Trust over Time
Low (below
mean); High (above mean)
Trust at Time 1
Low High
Trust Low 10 Teams 5 Teams
Time 2
4 Teams 10 Teams
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
and Huberman 1984). We began our analysis with broad
research questions, but did not have a set of a priori con-
structs or a data-coding theme. Because the literature con-
tained no rich descriptions of the form trust might be ex-
pected to take in the virtual team context, we felt that it
was premature
to develop a coding scheme. In summary,
our case descriptions were based on naturally occurring
communication, and the analysis procedures attempted
preserve the situated context of the teams' communica-
The following process was used in analyzing the data
for the cases: first, each team's mail archives were ana-
lyzed message by message, noting the date, time, message
initiator, and message content in a table. Second, a three-
to five-page case write-up was prepared for each team.
Next, the cases were condensed into one page each with
only the essential facts of each case included. These one-
page cases form the basis of the next section. The cases
were compared and contrasted with the other cases in
their category, resulting in the summaries of each cate-
gory. Lastly, a comparison of cases across categories was
Results of the Statistical Tests
The first survey had a response rate of 47%, and the sec-
ond a response rate of 61%. Given that most teams had
several inactive members, the response rates are reason-
able. Inactive members were not expelled from partici-
pation as it was felt that coping with them was an im-
portant part of the team's experience. The two measures
of trust were correlated (p = 0.019 at Time 1 and p =
0.003 at Time 2) although the Pearce et al. scale had the
higher reliability of 0.92, compared to 0.66 for the Mayer
scale. We hence used the Pearce et al. modified measure
of trust in all further
tests. Table 1A in Appendix 1 shows
the final items used to measure trust.
There was no significant difference in perceived trust
at Time 1 or Time 2 for individuals for individualistic
versus collectivist cultures (t = - 0.68, p = 0.5 at Time
1; t = 0.07, p = 0.9 at Time 2). Nor were there signifi-
cant differences in perceived trust at Time 1 or Time 2
between any of the levels of international
experience (see
Table 1). Because of insignificant results on culture and
experience, we did not consider these issues
in selecting teams for the case analysis.
To test for nonresponse bias in the whole sample, a t-
test was conducted comparing the perceived trust at Time
1 of those teams with at least two respondents at Time 1
but without two respondents at Time 2 (X = 3.93), versus
those teams with at least two respondents at Time 1 and
Table 1 t-Tests of Trust by Degree of International
None Moderate Extensive
Level of
Experience Mean St. Dev N Mean St. Dev N Mean St. Dev N
Trust Time 1 3.9 0.43 15 4.1 0.537 23 3.87 0.67 75
Trust Time 2 3.87 0.94 13 4.32 0.685 20 4.04 0.712 67
None vs. None vs. Moderate vs.
Moderate Extensive Extensive
Experience t p t p t p
Trust Time 1 -1.16 0.236 0.16 0.831 1.42 0.116
Trust Time 2 -1.52 0.15 -0.76 0.533 1.43 0.157
Time 2 (X = 3.76). Likewise, a t-test was conducted
comparing the perceived trust at Time 2 of those teams
with at least two respondents at Time 2 but not Time 1
(X = 4.02), versus those teams with at least two respon-
dents at both time periods (X = 4.03). There were no
significant differences (t = - 1.12, p < 0.236 for the
first test; t = 0.42, p < 0.674 for the second test). Hence,
it does not appear that the level of trust biased respon-
dents into responding, or not responding, to the surveys.
A paired-comparison t-test was conducted on the sam-
ple of 29 teams to determine if there was an overall sig-
nificant difference in trust from Time 1 (X = 3.95) to
Time 2 (X = 4.04). The test was insignificant (t =
- 1.35, p < 0.188).
Case Analyses
Of the 12 teams selected for in-depth analysis, only two
had less than three respondents to the first survey, and
only two had less than three respondents to the second
questionnaire (see Table 1). In addition, as seen in Table
2, there was a small variance among the members' ratings
of trust, with the exception of Team LoLo2 at Time 1 and
Team HiLol at Time 2. The interrater reliabilities for
each team were computed for trust at Time 1 and Time
2. As seen in Table 2, in 20 of the 24 instances, the re-
liability is above 0.8.
To verify that there was a significant difference in per-
ceived trust among the teams chosen for the case analy-
ses, t-tests were conducted. The differences in the mean
levels of perceived trust varied significantly (t = - 7.78,
p = 0.000) for those teams reporting low trust at Time 1
(X = 3.36) versus those perceiving high trust at Time 1
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
Table 2 Number of Respondents in the 12 Teams
Team Trust Time Interrater Trust Time Interrater
1 Responses Mean St. Dev Reliability 2 Responses Mean St. Dev Reliability
LoLol 2 3.00 0.57 0.84 2 3.00 0.62 0.81
LoLo2 3 3.33 1.10 0.40 4 3.48 0.88 0.61
LoLo3 3 3.67 0.46 0.89 4 3.75 0.50 0.88
1 3 3.43 0.42 0.90 3 4.15 0.44 0.90
LoHi2 2 3.40 0.85 0.64 4 4.40 0.49 0.88
LoHi3 3 3.87 0.55 0.85 2 4.10 0.14 0.99
HiLol 3 4.07 0.12 0.99 4 3.67 1.33 0.12
HiLo2 5 4.25 0.44 0.90 3 3.60 0.57 0.80
HiLo3 4 4.30 0.46 0.90 3 3.93 0.42 0.90
HiHil 5 4.44 0.55 0.85 4 4.60 0.42 0.91
HiHi2 4 4.56 0.46 0.80 4 4.60 0.40 0.92
Hil3 5 4.47 0.20 0.99 4 4.60 0.46 0.90
(X = 4.34). The differences in the mean levels of per-
ceived trust also varied significantly (t = -5.19, p =
0.001) for those teams with low trust at Time 2 (X =
3.57) versus those with high trust at Time 2 (X = 4.4).
Within-Case Analyses
Twelve cases were written from the transcripts, three per
category. Table 3 reports background information on
each case study team: the number and home country of
team members, the total number of messages in the first
two weeks and the following four weeks, and who, using
fictitious names, sent the messages. We next provide brief
synopses of the 12 cases.
Category 1: Low Initial Trust and Low Final Trust
Team LoLol. Team LoLol's first message was, "Hi!
Anybody there?" sent by Chao, the member who would
send 41 of the 81 total messages. Six days later a response
arrived from Paulo, asking if his message made it
through, and from Richard. A fourth member, Pierre, sent
a total of two messages in six weeks. The fifth member,
Martin, was not heard from until after the first assign-
ment. Chao took the role of the team coordinator and
suggested that they assign roles. She asked for volunteers
for various roles but received no response.
She submitted her contribution to the second assign-
ment before the other members and after a four-day lapse
in communication, reminded the other members of the
deadline and wrote: "Are you not in the GVT assignment
anymore?" Two of the other members, Richard and
Pierre, sent their parts to the second assignment on time.
Chao again asked if Paulo and Martin were still in the
group. There was no response.
Only three of the five members contributed
to the final
project for which Chao developed a schedule of tasks and
deadlines, solicited comments, and wrote, "I have ob-
served that effective groups are those who communicate
constantly and are committed to all datelines set." A day
later, Paulo asked the team to continue "on the next step"
but did not comment on Chao's message. Chao gave an
idea for the final project and asserted that she was "seri-
ously and eagerly looking forward to communicate with
you." Paulo provided brief feedback on Chao's idea, but
disappeared for several days. Martin apologized for his
lack of participation
and reasserted
his desire to "be a part
of the team" and volunteered to complete a part of the
project. Richard volunteered to write code for their Web
page. Paulo contributed links for their Web page as did
Martin, but Chao responded with an explanation of why
they were not relevant for the project. After writing a draft
of their proposal, Chao requested feedback but received
none. Team LoLol completed the final project. Martin
thanked Chao and Richard, "without whom there would
not have been any team." None of the other members sent
final greetings.
Team LoLo2. As a result of technical difficulties, the
first few messages sent by various team members of Team
LoLo2 were not received until a week after they were
sent. The first message received was from Kathy, who
would be the most active of the members, sending 47 of
the 109 total messages. As early as the first week, she
sent a schedule with tasks and deadlines for the team.
Becky was uncertain about the functioning of the server
and asked for confirmation of her message. She volun-
teered to send the team's first exercise to the project co-
The members all submitted their first and sec-
ond exercises on time although the exercises were terse,
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E. LEIDNER Communication
and Trust
Table 3 Information About the 12 Teams
Total Messages Messages Trust Trust Messages by Member After
Team Messages Sent Before Survey 1 After Survey 1 Time 1 Time 2 Country Before Survey 1 Survey I
LoLol 81 20 61 3.00 3.00 Australia Chao: 11 30
Denmark Martin:
1 13
France Pierre: 2 0
Philippines Paulo: 2 8
U.S.A. Richard: 4 9
LoLo2 109 34 75 3.33 3.48 Australia Kathy: 9 38
Canada Becky: 12 17
Finland Matti: 4 3
France Mireille:
5 4
Ireland John: 4 13
LoLo3 169 39 130 3.67 3.75 Australia James: 16 30
Austria Heike: 4 27
Denmark Cecilie: 6 29
Finland Liisa: 8 11
Philippines Leo: 5 33
LoHi1 122 48 74 3.43 4.15 Australia Lawrence: 8 11
W. Australia Olivia: 23 35
Brazil Alejandro: 2 2
France Vanessa: 5 9
Ireland Kelly: 4 11
Netherlands Lars: 6 6
LoHi2 57 16 41 3.40 4.40 Australia Moti:
4 15
Austria Andreas: 3 7
Canada Shelli: 4 11
Denmark Mans: 2 0
Finland Magnus: 3 8
LoHi3 58 28 30 3.87 4.10 Australia Huan: 8 9
Austria Franz: 4 9
Brazil Javier: 9 4
U.S.A. Dan: 7 8
HiLol 97 39 58 4.07 3.67 Australia Jun: 8 16
Brazil Carlos: 10 11
Denmark Rune: 3 3
Netherlands Henrik:
9 16
U.S.A. Michael: 9 12
HiLo2 71 21 50 4.25 3.60 Australia Howe: 4 17
Brazil Andre: 4 11
Canada Thomas: 7 8
Denmark Marj:
2 7
Ireland Stephen: 4 7
HiLo3 103 36 67 4.30 3.93 Australia Jenny: 6 12
Austria Leike: 7 4
Canada Vern: 14 33
Denmark Flemming: 2 1
Finland Paivi: 7 7
Thailand Jasmine: 0 10
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Table 3 (continued) Information About the 12 Teams
Total Messages Messages Trust Trust Messages by Member After
Team Messages Sent Before Survey 1 After Survey 1 Time 1 Time 2 Country Before Survey 1 Survey I
HiHil 216 40 176 4.44 4.60 Australia Linda: 5 22
Denmark Anders: 7 44
Finland Riikka:
10 35
Ireland Emma: 11 51
U.S.A. Donna: 7 24
HiHi2 168 44 124 4.47 4.60 Australia Janet: 1 31
Canada Pattie: 20 18
France Anne:4 14
Netherlands Machtelt: 11 27
Philippines Randy: 8 34
HiHi3 114 35 79 4.56 4.60 Australia Julian: 5 31
Canada Melissa: 8 18
Denmark Karl: 6 14
Netherlands Boris: 11 27
Philippines Hirod: 5 34
MEAN 3.95 4.04
ST DEV 0.42 0.40
with little social content. Becky encouraged the team to
think about the final project early but stated that she found
"the subject hard to find." John volunteered to be respon-
sible for developing the Web page and sent an idea for
the final project.
Team LoLo2 had a lapse in communication of five days
following completion of the second exercise. During the
following seven-day period, John, Kathy, and Becky
were the only members to contribute.
They agreed on the
idea suggested by John and decided upon roles: one in-
dividual doing research (Kathy), two working on the Web
page (John and Matti), and two working on the written
document (Becky and Mireille). Mireille's response to the
role assignments was to say that she was "kind of con-
fused, still, about all that. I am not sure I can be very
helpful." She subsequently announced on April 17 that
she would be leaving town April 25, so any contribution
from her would have to be made before then. Kathy de-
vised a schedule for the final project with tasks, members,
and deadlines. She began researching their topic and sent
the text of ten articles she found in the library. However,
she did not provide ideas about how to incorporate the
Only one individual assigned to the document, Becky,
contributed. (Mireille's only contribution was to say it
"looks great" and that she had nothing to add.) Likewise,
John developed the prototype of the Web page with
s sole contribution being to congratulate John.
Kathy aggregated her work with Becky's and reminded
the team that "This is OUR PRODUCT." The feedback
was again "Great job." Kathy then enclosed a revised file
for review and Becky erupted:
"What's going on!!! First,
we had decided on a schedule, nobody follows it. Second,
we decided on who would do what, nobody cares.... Is
this a team project or what?" She was upset because
Kathy had not included some additions she had made to
an earlier draft. Kathy apologized-she had "accidentally
overlooked" one of Becky's messages with the new in-
formation. The remaining four days of the project were
spent finalizing the Web page. The team completed the
assignment on time but no pleasantries were exchanged
at the end.
Team LoLo3. Team LoLo3 exchanged a large num-
ber- 169-of messages among all five members and con-
ducted chat sessions. James, the most active member for
whom this was a "first ever group project," expressed
concern early on over "the lack of control that a group
project entails" and "what should I do when there is no
communication." James volunteered to submit the first
assignment and summarized what should be done. The
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antd Trust
day of the deadline coincided with technical difficulties,
and James failed to receive some of the contributions.
wrote, "So far we have only had really easy things to do,
and we still have failed to meet the deadline properly."
The group finished the second assignment on time.
Heike, who had not contributed to the first assignment,
was the first to provide ideas for the final project. Leo
provided two ideas and, like Heike, provided brief expla-
nations. James gave an idea with substantial explanation.
Heike proposed to combine the ideas, and Liisa and Leo
responded agreeably, to which James responded, "Heike
ranks technology transfer highest, but does anyone know
anything about this? Please can EVERYONE provide
DETAILS about the idea they like most. I am scared be-
cause I can't see how to proceed." He then went into great
detail (over five pages) on his idea. Leo thanked James
"for his more rational thinking." Leo, Heike, and Liisa
agreed to go with James's idea.
James maintained responsibility and control for the
Web page development, Leo took responsibility for the
written proposal, and Heike, Cecilie, and Liisa promised
to contribute links for the Web page. In a period of 48
hours, Cecilie, Liisa, and Heike each sent James a large
number of URL addresses, but without any written ex-
planation about the sites. James wrote, "Whoah!!! hang
on a minute . . ." and "Please please please please do not
send me any more links ... I must have written about 10
times about the reason why links to technical manuals are
not appropriate
for our page." With one week left, James
became concerned that someone would turn in the incor-
rect version of the proposal to their
professor. He had "put
way too many hours into this project" to risk receiving a
poor mark. As a practice assignment, he wanted each
member to try to decode a copy of the paper sent by Leo
as an enclosure in a message. Heike stated that she could
not decode it, and Cecilie and Liisa did not respond. Leo
and James completed the project. Heike stated in her clos-
ing message that "although some things didn't work well
it was a good experience to see IF it is possible to work
in such a virtual environment. In my opinion, it's much
more complicated to communicate in such a way without
face-to-face contact." The team did not exchange depart-
ing messages.
Summary of LoLo Teams. Besides having technical
problems, LoLo teams lacked optimism, excitement, and
initiative. LoLo3 had members with initiative and will-
ingness to complete their role assignments, but the neg-
ative or distrustful leader suppressed excitement over the
project. The teams also suffered from major lapses in
communication or, as in case of LoLo3, a fear of com-
munication lapses. None of the teams had messages with
much social content.
Category 2: Low Initial Trust and High Final Trust
Team LoHil. Team LoHil consisted of six members
(three active members) and exchanged a total of 122 mes-
sages. The initiator of team activity, Olivia, described
herself as "very reliable-if I say I will do something, I
do it." Olivia asked for a volunteer to collate the first
assignment but did not volunteer herself. Lars volun-
teered and asked if anyone objected. When only two
members replied that they did not objects, he responded,
"not everyone has responded to my 'vote' for me col-
lecting" the information. Olivia responded, "just do it"
and proposed a rule that "silence indicates consent." This
triggered discussion on rules such as respecting others'
ideas, checking e-mail regularly, and avoiding the flam-
ing of other members.
The team had technical problems early on: one member
contributed to the first assignment on time, but several
did not receive the contribution;
the member, in turn, did
not receive others' contributions. Another member stated
that he did not understand
what to do for the second as-
signment even though two members had already submit-
ted their parts of the assignment to the group. Two mem-
bers explained what to do, but he still submitted his part
two weeks late with the excuse that he had been busy.
Several messages were exchanged on the final project
idea. Lawrence sent an idea which Olivia was not sure
"really fit" the objective of the project, but she gave no
alternative. Vanessa returned from vacation and ex-
pressed discomfort with the idea but also gave no alter-
native. Kelly gave an alternative idea, which was ac-
cepted. Afterwards, the team focused solely on the
project. There were no references to rules of any kind,
and the nonparticipating members, Alejandro and Lars,
were not assigned any tasks.
Lawrence, Kelly, and Olivia communicated frequently
during the final weeks. The members had assigned tasks,
but they overlapped. Lawrence and Kelly worked simul-
taneously on coding two separate sets of Web pages.
Kelly asked why there was duplication of effort.
Lawrence suggested that the pages were not "in compe-
tition" but that he intended to take the best from both
pages. Well before the project deadline, Olivia produced
a lengthy written proposal; likewise, Lawrence and Kelly
produced the html code with sufficient time for com-
ments. After the drafts had received feedback and were
revised, Lars reemerged from what he said was an illness,
expressed surprise that the deadline was in two days, but
then gave extensive comments and suggestions on the
proposal draft which were incorporated.
The active mem-
bers expressed satisfaction with their project as well as
their team.
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Team LoHi2. Of all twelve teams, Team LoHi2' s five
members exchanged the smallest number of messages in
the first two weeks. The members engaged in very little
social introduction; they did, however, reflect about the
challenges of virtual work in their opening messages.
Said one, "Quickly establishing a mutual understanding
is not an easy task." Said another, "Everyone makes an
introduction, but the impression you get is like via a let-
ter." A third member echoed the potential paradox of vir-
tual work: the "virtual environment can either allow a
person to be more honest than they may be face-to-face
or the exact opposite, they can hide behind a facade so
you may not be getting truth."
Even before completion of the second assignment,
Shelli asked the other members to think about the final
project and proposed an idea to which the others re-
sponded and gave optional ideas. The team agreed to go
with Shelli's initial idea. Andreas developed a home page
listing the days and hours he would be available to work
on the project, and upon his request, the other members
sent their schedules for posting on the page. Moti pro-
posed a framework to discuss ideas-he set up a Web
page with initial ideas and asked others to respond; he
continually updated the page according to submitted
ideas. The members did not hesitate to commit, evident
in such statements as "I promise to do a paragraph
or two
as Moti suggested." Each member also followed through
with the work they promised to do. At one point, Moti
wrote, "Dear Virtual Teammembers: now you are almost
becoming real to me." Shelli stated that she "was worried
after assignment 2 but this was quickly alleviated by ev-
eryone's enthusiasms." Each member expressed satisfac-
tion with the final outcome as well as with the teamwork
achieved. Wrote one, "I think it is great the way we could
build upon each others' ideas." And another, "I enjoyed
very much working with you. You all did what you prom-
ised to do. In teamwork, it's the most important thing."
The name of the fifth team member who had only sent
two messages was not included on the final project or the
Team LoHi3. Like Team LoHi2, Team LoHi3 sent
relatively few messages-60 in total. The first member
to send a message, Huan, wrote that he had never used
"this technology" before and that he hoped "my mail
could reach you." He sent a second message three hours
later saying the same thing. Javier responded, but did not
introduce himself. Huan sent a third and fourth message
with the earlier message content. A third member, Franz,
wrote that he received a "terrible lot of mail day after
day" and requested them to identify the project in the
subject of each message. A fourth member, Dan, gave a
long introduction and compared working in a virtual en-
vironment to "playing chess with one move made every
24 hours." Dan initiated the first two team assignments.
Huan expressed his gratefulness for Dan's initiatives but
also wrote that he was "a bit jealous of the other group"
who had "a lot of conversation." He suggested that Dan
or Franz serve as the team leaders, Franz announced that
he would be unavailable until May 6 (the project was due
on April 31).
The concept of a leader was never mentioned again
although Dan remained the initiator; he did not assign
tasks to others, but reminded others of what needed to be
done and by when, Franz reemerged on April 5 and of-
fered to "take care of coordinating and giving a final
touch to the website." Franz set up a background for a
website before the team actually chose a topic and a day
later commented that "If I am not mistaken-at least
that's what I learn from the log files, then Huan is the
only one who has found the time to at least look at what
is going at the yet to be filled GVT51 Web page." The
other members visited the site and one wrote, "I finally
visited our home page. I got really happy with this....
Friends, I am very happy today (as I see our home this
evening)." Huan checked the page regularly and com-
mented on Pete's changes. On April 28, Dan sent a
lengthy (six page) document describing the page, its de-
sign, its contents, and the justification. Wrote Franz in
response, "I believe, you will understand, that I would
have been much happier if only you had managed to con-
front me with any new/summarising material by Friday
as indicated a week ago. Nonetheless, it is nice to see that
you did invest more time to bring our project to an end
before long." Dan politely explained how his changes im-
plied only minor coding changes. Huan and Dan both
maintained an upbeat and friendly tone in the final mes-
sages and sent goodbyes as well.
Summary of LoHi Teams. The LoHi trust teams ap-
peared to differ from the LoLo trust teams in that they
had predictable, though infrequent, communication, more
equal participation across members, and a focus on the
task after the initial assignments. Like LoLo teams, LoHi
team members did not exert an effort to get to know each
other, and hence the members' relationships were purely
professional or task focused. These teams seemed to be
initially preoccupied with the establishment of rules to
manage the uncertainty they felt. The teams appeared to
have increased their trust
by successfully overcoming (or
simply learning to ignore) the initial uncertainties they
felt, focusing on the task, and resisting distractions that
did not contribute to the task.
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
Category 3: High Initial Trust and Low Final Trust
Team HiLol. Team HiLol exchanged a total of 99 mes-
sages, a little under half of which were exchanged during
the first two weeks. The group began by exchanging
many social messages. One wrote, "How hard is it to
carry out an entire project without having those boring
professional meetings." Rune volunteered to compile the
first assignment but did not follow through because he
did not receive confirmation of the role. Another member,
Henrik, submitted the assignment and received praise
from the others: "Well done, buddy." After the first as-
signment, the members were exuberant:
"I had very good
impressions of you, and I think we'll have a great time
working together. Success for Team 60!!!" Another
wrote, "Hey guys, I think we've done it." And another,
"I think we've started this collaboration in a good way.
It's nice working with you guys." And the fourth, "Con-
gratulations everybody! We did complete our first as-
signment on time!" When one of the members failed to
complete the second assignment on time, the coordinating
member added one of his own ideas under the absent
member's name before turning in the assignment.
After the second assignment, Michael announced that
he "would love to just do it and get it over." Carlos com-
plained of technical problems at his university, stating
that "it seems every time I go to school to surf on the
Net, the only room with direct Internet access is closed."
Rune failed to communicate for over a week, and others
sent messages: "Where is Rune?"
He reemerged after two
weeks but contributed
only two messages thereafter.
three weeks remaining before the final project deadline,
one member suggested the need for rules although he did
not suggest any particular ones. The others also agreed
on the need for rules but proposed none. Likewise, the
members were aware of the need to provide ideas for the
final project-"I think it would be nice for us to brain-
storm a little before we decide the subject"-but only one
member, Jun, actually proposed any ideas. Jun sent a long
task-oriented message with ideas for the project. The
message was received enthusiastically-"Great Hurray
for the Jun, Excellent initiative my friend, I applaud your
idea"-but there was no discussion over the content of
the proposal. Michael stated that he had no experience in
the proposed area but made no other suggestion. Another
wrote: "If you send me a topic that I can research, I'll be
happy to do so." Wrote a third, "But plz plz plz mail me
in what way I can contribute.... I still am a little con-
fused. Just tell me what I need to contribute." Jun then
suggested that the final project be a compilation of one
topic per member, and asked each member to send their
topics to him. Two members contributed
brief paragraphs
of content for the project. Jun was left to finalize the pro-
ject. No greetings were exchanged at the end.
Team HiLo2. Team HiLo2 had 73 messages in total.
Thomas was the first to communicate: "To move things
along, I'm starting the ball rolling with a personal de-
scription." One member subsequently suggested that
Thomas take on "the role of a team coordinator" because
of his "technical experience and ambitions to go into
management." Thomas did not acknowledge the role in
writing, but did take initiative in moving the second as-
signment and final project along. All members contrib-
uted to the first two assignments on time, except for one
member, Andre, who sent his part
for the first assignment
late with the excuse that he was having technical prob-
A long lapse in communication occurred after the sec-
ond assignment. Between April 3 and April 15, only
Thomas sent messages, one on April 11 and the following
on April 14. On April 14, Thomas wrote, "I've just spent
a very dull few hours looking through the ISWorld site
in preparation for Part III. The next and final assignment
is due on April 29 and, as is the custom of most students,
we're leaving it rather late." He offered an idea for the
project. He received no immediate response and sent a
second message asking if his message was received. The
following day, Howe wrote that he had been having tech-
nical difficulties and would respond shortly. A day later,
Stephen gave no idea of his own for the project but asked,
"Can we agree on a topic .. .? Also, I would like to hear
from someone apart from Thomas."
One member, assumed by the others to be Thomas, sent
a message to the project administrator
complaining that
none of the other members were contributing. The mes-
sage was forwarded to the professors of each member on
the team. One of the members responded, "That sort of
behavior does nothing for the spirit of the team." Another
member agreed: "In
my humble opinion, things are some-
what out of order in this exercise." Thomas sent just three
more messages in a ten-day period, one with his contri-
bution to the project, one thanking a member for coding
the page, and a third stating that he was unavailable to
do any more work on the project.
Stephen and Howe were left to complete the project.
Stephen sent a series of links and suggested someone else
should "take on the job of organising them." The only
response was from Howe who wrote that he was working
on the proposal and "would have expected more from
Andre and Samal." On April 25 Stephen sent another
message to the members to "just have a look at our page
and try to give me your feedback as to how to make it
look better."
The following day, he sent a message stating
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that he had "just checked my mail . . . and I was disap-
pointed to see that there have been no replies about the
project." Howe submitted a proposal draft for review con-
taining several sections where he had inserted "need help
here," but the only feedback received was that it "looked
fine" and was actually "more than I expected." The team
submitted a final project with several sections containing
asterisks next to the words "need help here."
Team HiLo3. Team HiLo3 exchanged a total of 107
messages of which almost half, 46, were from a single
member, Vern, who was elected to be team leader. Team
HiLo3's communication began with lengthy personal in-
troductions and claims such as, "I am looking forward to
working with you all." A few members experienced prob-
lems in receiving mail, but Vern reassured them that this
was common so not to worry. Vein proposed procedures
for the group to follow, and the group agreed upon them.
All members contributed to the first and second assign-
ments on time except for one individual, Flemming. Vein
wrote, "It would have been nice to get his opinion on the
numerous points raised."
After the second assignment, Paivi summarized the
ideas expressed for the final project to that point and pro-
posed additional team rules. On April 10, Vein wrote that
"judging from the pace we have demonstrated so far, we
should be done by Christmas," and he did not want "to
sound cranky." Even though the team had exchanged 53
messages at this point, many more than some other teams,
he stated that "they need to start interacting more often
as a team." Paivi thanked Vein for stimulating the group,
again summarized the ideas submitted to that point, and
noted which idea she preferred.
Without any prior warning, Paivi withdrew herself
from the project on April 15 and stated that "the actual
teamwork could have anyhow been more intensive." The
members reacted strongly. Jenny explained that she had
"no ability to work without their help" and begged them
to "please do our work together!!!" Vein asked the re-
maining members to identify a role for themselves. Ten
hours later, Vein sent another message stating that "this
will continue to be a frustrating experience for many un-
less everyone participates fully . . ." and that if "anyone
is in for a free ride, get out." He counted the number of
task-related messages in the past week and described the
situation as "extremely frustrating." Jenny thanked Vein
for "trying to wake them up" and defined her role. Vein
then listed tasks to be done and "appointed"
He requested confirmation of the message containing
negative remarks: "The situation is not very encouraging.
SATISFYING RESULT." Vemn continued to work on
his own tasks and prodded for feedback. Leike and
Jasmine offered excuses relating to technical problems
and a lack of a clear understanding of their tasks. Vein
completed the project and wrote, "I would have expected
this exercise to be a real collaborative effort which, un-
fortunately, it has not really been."
Summary of HiLo Teams. The teams that shifted from
high trust to low trust exhibited initial enthusiasm and
excitement. Ironically, their optimism coincided with a
lack of serious reflection on the challenges of working in
a virtual environment. This optimism and excitement
waned gradually in one case, but rather abruptly in two
cases. In one case, the trust seemed to fall as the members
exhibited a pattern of desultory followers looking for a
leader who did not emerge. The other two teams explic-
itly chose leaders only to be abandoned
by them. The very
choice of a single leader appears quixotic: the existence
of a stated leader seemed to lessen the felt need to con-
tribute among the other members. Since the members had
betrayed their leaders, it was no surprise that the leaders
betrayed their teams.
4: High Initial Trust and High Final Trust
Team HiHil. Team HiHil was characterized by many
messages-222, 142 of which came during the last five
days of the project. The members' initial messages ex-
pressed enthusiasm about the project-"I'm really enthu-
siastic and committed to this project"; "I'm waiting for-
ward to hearing from you!"; "This project is really
exciting to me." The members were also curious about
the potential of the virtual environment-"Can we trust
the things we see, read, or hear?" All but one member,
Emma, submitted the first assignment, but the members
asked Emma to complete her assignment even after the
deadline so they could get to know her. There were many
social exchanges during the first two weeks. When the
members returned after Easter, the first few messages
were also social-describing their weekends, what they
ate, and what they drank.
This team did not establish team rules nor spend time
deciding upon procedures. A member proposed a sched-
ule for the final project with four milestones, each with a
deadline. The other members agreed to the schedule with
some minor modifications. Anders, Linda, and Riikka
provided ideas for the project with thorough explanations
as did Donna, who summarized
all the ideas received. The
team agreed on a topic and divided into roles. After find-
ing a link that accomplished what her team had planned
to do, Donna sent a message with the subject heading
"URGENT!!! Idea taken?" and suggested they change the
topic. Linda, Anders, and Emma all responded that they
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should just differentiate the site. The team wavered for
days. Donna maintained her position and persuaded
Emma. The team was divided and a sense of urgency
developed as they were "running out of time!" Donna
then suggested that they stick to the original idea. At this
point, the members were well behind their own schedule
but seemed to maintain a confidence-"Don't worry I am
sure we will get it done with a little concentration some
hard work and keeping in touch," wrote Linda. With four
days left, 91 messages had been exchanged. In the re-
maining four days, 111 more messages were exchanged.
Emma and Anders coordinated their working times, as
did Riikka and Linda because of overlap in their work.
The team managed near real-time communication: when
a member asked, "p.s. is anybody there?", she meant
"right now"-as opposed to a larger time frame within
the project. The members exchanged and edited several
versions of the paper and the html code before completing
the final version. They each thanked the others for their
great work, expressed satisfaction with having worked on
such a team ("Super much thanks to everyone!!! I loved
working with you!"; "You are great!! !"), and exchanged
personal e-mail addresses.
Team HiHi2. The first two weeks of the five-member
HiHi2 team's communication was dominated by Pattie, a
50-year old former nurse. As early as her third message,
Pattie expressed a desire to keep in touch with the other
members after the project. Randy claimed to be "equally
enthusiastic" to work with the team. One member, Hans,
never sent a single message, and the members concluded
that Hans was not part of the team. Team HiHi2 missed
the deadline for the first and second assignments. Wrote
Pattie, "One of the frustrations I have with this virtual
team process is that there seems to be no way of knowing
what has been sent or received." The team developed a
system of numbering messages and agreed to confirm re-
ceipt of messages by referring to the number. The mem-
bers continued to express enthusiasm: "This is fun isn't
it! I came home tonight looking forward to reading mail
from my team." Janet suggested a schedule with tasks
and deadlines. Randy followed up with three pages of
discussion on what their project page should look like and
what the target should be. Pattie took on mostly a social
and process role, such as sending greetings and recount-
ing daily events.
Only two ideas for the final project were proposed.
Janet wrote that Randy's idea received the most support
so they should go with it. When there were no comments
to her message, she asked, "Can
you all PLEASE allocate
time to this exercise." Pattie apologized for a seven-day
absence, thanked Randy and Janet for their leadership,
and informed the team that she would be busy for two
more days. Machtelt expressed confusion over the topic,
saying that she was "not quite sure what to do, and what
to write" and asked them to describe to her "in short clear
terms." Randy said that he felt "that we are stagnating."
Janet wrote an introduction for Randy's idea and asked
each member to contribute a section. Randy and Janet
began to develop a draft of the paper and kept the team
apprised of their progress. Janet then realized that she and
Randy had had a misunderstanding over the nature of the
topic. She decided they must go with Randy's interpre-
tation. Pattie then reemerged after four days with a nine-
page summary of what she found on Janet'
s original in-
terpretation of the topic. This exasperated Janet, who felt
"like I have just wasted my whole weekend on this as-
signment . . . we've gone backwards. It is very depress-
ing." Randy and Pattie sent "calming e-mails" to encour-
age Janet.
Seventy-two messages were sent during the final week
of the project. Pattie, Randy, and Janet did the majority
of the work. Machtelt and Anne sent positive feedback.
Pattie wrote that she was "eating, sleeping, and dreaming"
the project, and Machtelt was "very impressed, and much
heartened" by the results. Pattie praised the other mem-
bers with phrases such as "good thinking lady!" to Janet
and "You said it perfectly well!" Randy was likewise en-
thusiastic ("Heaps of Mails! Excellent!"), as was Janet
("It's fun isn't it.")
Team HiHi3. Team HiHi3 exchanged 131 messages.
Julian, a 39-year-old former doctor, initiated the com-
munication, stating that "the first couple of weeks ... will
be largely about sorting out what the project even is."
The members did not exchange social messages although
they expressed commitment and excitement. The first as-
signment was completed by all members on time. The
team agreed upon procedures at the start of the second
week-they would read all messages before responding
to any, use meaningful subject headings, code their mes-
sages for easy reference, and divide into roles. Julian was
nominated as a leader. The second assignment was com-
pleted on time by all members except Melissa.
After the second assignment, the team arranged
for nu-
merous chat sessions and always summarized the session
for one member who was unable to attend because of
technical or time problems. Julian, since "someone called
me the LEADER," even developed a list of tips on how
to chat properly-with upwards of 15 tips included. The
members discussed the proper way to exchange versions
of the paper well before anything had been written. After
a week of synchronous and asynchronous discussions
about procedural issues, the group focused on task con-
tent. Responding to an idea from Boris that he considered
too complex, Julian suggested that he preferred
the simple
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
"Melissa and Julian approach." Melissa was annoyed and
suggested that no one "speak on behalf of anyone else."
She proceeded to expand on Boris's idea. A lapse in com-
munication ensued, leading Melissa to state, "I hate to be
the one to bring this up, but it has been 97 hours since
our chat, and I have not received anyone' s contribution."
Responded Julian, "The ongoing contribution is coming
from members who support Boris's idea-where are you
Boris?" Julian volunteered himself for a portion of the
work and made suggestions on which members would do
the other tasks.
The team's work progressed smoothly from this point
on, and the communication was focused on the task con-
tent. Julian continued to play the leadership role and en-
couraged the team with such statements as, "Everyone
just keep pulling together and we can do this." The pace
began to intensify well before the deadline, and the mem-
bers often wrote portions of the paper synchronously dur-
ing chat sessions. The biggest spurt
of messages occurred
the week before the project deadline. The members were
excited-"This is great!"-with the way they were work-
ing together and finished the project several days early.
The members congratulated each other on their contri-
butions, exchanged personal addresses, and departed
warm greetings.
Summary of HiHi Teams. The HiHi teams engaged in
social introductions
that allowed the team members to get
to know each other. Periods of intense online communi-
cation further strengthened the group identity. The HiHi
teams experienced difficulties, but were able to overcome
them. For example, two of the HiHi teams failed to fully
complete the first two exercises on time, but this was not
viewed as a setback by the members; rather, they kept
prodding the members who did not complete the exer-
cises to complete them after the deadline, not because the
completion was needed but because they were generally
interested in the other members' responses. The team
members all or nearly all showed initiative, and roles
emerged for each member. In the HiHi teams, the mem-
bers engaged in frequent communication, gave substan-
tive feedback on fellow members' work, and notified each
other of forthcoming absences.
Analysis Across the Categories
of Cases
The case descriptions reveal sources of vulnerability, un-
certainty, and expectations in all teams. The LoLo and
HiLo teams appeared to be less equipped to deal with
them than the HiHi and LoHi teams. Figure 3 captures
the behaviors that surfaced in the case analyses by each
category (the major quadrants) as well as the behaviors
that were common across categories (the four boxes trans-
versing the quadrants).
The teams that began and finished
the project with low trust (Quadrant I) were marked by
unequally distributed communication, shallow ideas, a
lack of task focus, and little feedback, as contrasted with
the teams that began with low trust
but finished with high
trust (Quadrant II), who managed a shift from a proce-
dural focus to a task focus, were able to resolve technical
difficulties, and established a predictable communication
pattern as the project progressed. The teams that began
with high trust but finished with low trust (Quadrant III)
began enthusiastically but were unable to manage a suc-
cessful shift to a task focus, failed to develop capabilities
to deal with the unreliable technology, appointed a leader
who had no followers, or had followers with no leader.
By contrast, the teams that began and finished the project
with high trust (Quadrant IV) began with high enthusiasm
but were also able to address technical problems, were
able to dynamically address issues of who would do what,
when and with whom, provided detailed explanations of
content contributions, quickly responded to others' initia-
tives, and were immersed in the task.
Several commonalities were observed in teams that be-
gan the project with low levels of trust (the LoLo and
LoHi teams): a lack of social introduction, concern with
technical uncertainties, and a lack of enthusiasm (see Box
1 of Figure 3). The teams that began with high trust (the
HiLo and HiHi teams) exhibited roughly the inverse pat-
tern of high initial enthusiasm and extensive social dialog
(see Box 3 of Figure 3). Those teams that finished the
project with low trust (LoLo and HiLo) displayed a com-
mon problem of negative leadership, lack of individual
initiative, and unpredictable communication (see Box 2
of Figure 3), whereas those teams that finished the project
with high trust (the LoHi and HiHi teams) benefitted from
a successful transition to the task following the initial
communications, predictable communication, substantive
feedback, strong individual initiative, and calm reaction
to problems (see Box 4 of Figure 3). As is noticeable, the
behaviors observed in teams with low levels of early trust
are the inverse of those behaviors observed in teams with
high levels of early trust; likewise, the behaviors observed
in teams with low levels of trust at the end are the inverse
of those associated with teams with high levels of trust
at the end. Table 4 categorizes these major
in terms of communication behaviors and member actions
that appear
to facilitate the existence of trust early on and
communication behaviors and actions that might help
maintain trust in the later stages. Following the table, we
describe these in more depth.
Behaviors Facilitating
Early On
1. Social Communication. Social exchanges appeared
facilitate trust early on in the team's existence. Whereas
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E. LEIDNER Communication
and Trust
Figure 3 Within and Cross-Category Case Analysis
Initial Level of Trust High
Low Hg
Unequally distributed communication Unreflective expectations
didsanutin . Lack of follow-through on ideas
Sliackof tdeaskand
fous ions Excitement over initial small successes
Lack of task focus_
Little or no feedback Box 2 Departure/betrayal of
Low Negative Leadership leader or key member
Unpredictable Communication Unable to manage
Lack of Individual Initiative transition to main task
Finial Box I Box 3
Level I Lack of Social Introduction Initial Enthusiasm III
of Teclinical Uncertainties Initial Social Focus
Lack of Enthusiasm
Box 4
Initial preoccupation Phlegmatic Reaction to Crises Unbothered by non-
procedures Succesful Transition from task failures
High Later focus on task social-procedure-task Roles for all
Eiiiergent rather than Predictable Communication Realistic expectations
assigiied leadership Substantive Feedback Schedule as guide, not
Professional, rather than Individual Initiative as source of pressure
social, relationship
amoiig inembers Thorough explanation of ideas
11~~~~~~~~~~~ Intensity during crucial periods IV
the teams with low initial trust exchanged few social mes-
sages in the first two weeks, the initial communication
among members of teams beginning with high trust was
largely social. For instance, almost half of all messages
exchanged for two of the HiLo teams were done so during
the first two weeks of participation and contained social
(nontask) comments: they discussed their hobbies, their
weekend activities, and their families at length. This ex-
tensive social discussion appeared to foster trust in the
Table 4 Trust-Facilitating Communication Behaviors and
Member Actions
Communication Behaviors Communication Behaviors that
that Facilitated Trust Helped Maintain Trust
Early in a Group's Life Later in a Group's Life
* Social communication * Predictable communication
* Communication of enthusiasm * Substantial and timely
Member Actions that Member Actions that
Facilitated Trust Early Helped Maintain
Trust Later
in a Group's Life in a Group's Life
* Coping with technical * Successful transition from social
uncertainty to procedural to task focus
* Individual initiative * Positive leadership
* Phlegmatic response to crises
beginning of the project but was insufficient in maintain-
ing trust over the longer term. Two of the HiHi teams
developed an amicable social rapport early on and con-
tinued to exchange social information until the final week,
but this information was always integrated
into otherwise
task-oriented messages. These team members appeared
to be careful not to use social dialog as a substitute for
progress on the task.
2. Communication Conveying Enthusiasm. In teams
with low initial trust, the messages revealed markedly
little enthusiasm or optimism. Whether the low-trust team
members actually had little enthusiasm, or simply failed
to express it, is not clear. In HiHi teams there was a great
deal of excitement about the project: the members re-
ferred to their teams as their "virtual family" and as a
"virtual party," claimed that "we are beginning to feel
like friends, not just teammates," and encouraged each
other with such statements as "This is getting exciting!"
and "great work everyone!!!" The HiHi teams encour-
aged each other on the task, with such statements as, "Ev-
eryone just keep pulling together and we can do this" and
with references to working together "on producing the
best IS page ever." The teams that moved from low to
high trust expressed enthusiasm and optimism as the pro-
ject progressed. For example, it was after the first two
weeks that the members of LoHi2 began encouraging one
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Member Actions Facilitating Trust Early On
3. Coping with Technical and Task Uncertainty. The
teams that reported low initial trust were unable to de-
velop a system of coping with technical uncertainty and
the unstructured task. Although the leader of LoLo3, for
example, gave his work and home telephone numbers for
the other members if they were experiencing prolonged
technical problems beyond their control, this was not a
realistic solution because of time zone differences and the
expense of telephone calls. The low-trust teams also fu-
elled the feeling of an uncertain technological environ-
ment by blaming their problems and tardiness on the tech-
nology. The excuses given were rarely challenged beyond
statements such as, "I find it very hard when there is no
communication ... I don't know if it is because of tech-
nology failing, or people not coming in to work or what."
Members of low-trust teams also expressed uncertainty
over the task goals-"I find the subject hard to find" and
"I am kind of confused . . . not sure I can be very help-
ful"-but failed clarify the task among all the team mem-
The HiHi trust teams developed schemes to deal with
the technological and task uncertainty. One such scheme
was the use of numbering systems so that all members
would be aware if they had missed a message. Another
scheme was simply informing the other members in ad-
vance of the times they would be working or would be
unavailable to work. The HiHi teams also exchanged
many messages purporting to clarify and develop con-
sensus on the requirements of the task.
4. Individual Initiative. The teams with low initial
trust, and those that remained at low trust, had members
who did not take initiative: several members on each
LoLo team revealed a desire to be told what to do and
simply waited for others to make the important
The members would state that a topic needed to be de-
cided upon without making a suggestion. Similarly, teams
that shifted from high to low trust exhibited a lack of
initiative in pushing the project forward. For example, a
member of HiLo trust team asked, "Can we agree on a
topic or on what we are going to do?" but did not take
initiative in suggesting an idea. A member on HiLo2
stated that she was waiting for someone "to give the sig-
nal" on the topic. Likewise, a member suggested the need
to be proactive-"The only way to make the experience
enjoyable and valuable was for all members to be as
proactive as possible."-without actually proactively ini-
tiating a task. The teams reporting low trust at the end
were hesitant to commit, evident in such statements as "I
think (not a promise) I'll be able to have the page (at least
the skeleton of it) done early next week." Furthermore,
the teams ending with low trust revealed simple task ideas
and solutions with little explanation. One cannot blame
the medium for the lack of richness in their ideas; rather,
the members simply failed to provide details with their
ideas. In this sense, the medium was more of a shield
against having to explain themselves than a factor that
limited their ability to fully explicate their ideas. By con-
trast, the HiHi teams were characterized by initiative:
members would make topic suggestions instead of asking
for suggestions, and would volunteer instead of asking
for volunteers. In HiHi teams, even though a leader
emerged, the majority of the members took initiative at
different times.
Communication Behaviors Maintaining
Later On
5. Predictable Communication. Unequitable, irregular,
and unpredictable communication hindered trust. Teams
ending with low trust were characterized less by the over-
all level of communication than by unpredictable com-
munication patterns, with one or two members responsi-
ble for the majority of the communication. Members
would express concern over where the other members
were, such as a member from LoLo3 wondering, "What
is happening to the rest of the team apart from James?"
A member from LoHil wrote during the first two weeks
that "I was away for a few days and everybody thinks I
died or something." However, without forewalning of
communication absences, it proved difficult for these
members to maintain confidence in their teams. What ap-
peared to reestablish confidence in LoHi teams was ex-
plicitly setting an expectation of how regularly messages
would be sent. Thus, even though they did not necessarily
communicate frequently, they had a regular pattern of
communication established, which assuaged uncertainties
over team members' commitments. Likewise, the mem-
bers of all HiHi trust teams forewarned one another about
upcoming absences. The members of two of the HiHi
trust teams managed a near real-time environment during
the crucial periods of the final project.
6. Substantive and Timely Response. A key difference
between HiLo and HiHi teams was that HiHi team, mem-
bers received explicit and prompt responses verifying that
their messages, and their contributions to the assign-
ments, were thoroughly read and evaluated. Even though
all three HiHi teams divided the work, each member con-
tributed to the work of the others. Even less adept mem-
bers (either due to language or technical challenges) man-
aged to contribute positively. By contrast, the feedback
in HiLo trust teams might have been positive, but the
failure to elaborate reflected a cursory perusal rather than
a perspicacious evaluation of others' contributions.
the low trust teams received no feedback and were left,
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and Trutst
as stated a member from LoLo3, to "just ... use my own
creativity as I haven't had any real comments."
Member Actions Facilitating Trust Later On
7. Leadership. A problem that was common for the
HiLo and LoLo teams was ineffective and/or negative
leadership. Team HiLol exhibited a desire for leadership
although no leader emerged. The other two HiLo teams
experienced negative posturing from their elected leaders
and other key team members. The leaders of these teams
were chosen not based on their greater level of experience
but apparently
because they were the first to communicate
or they had sent the largest number of initial messages.
The appointed leaders of the HiLo teams engaged in neg-
ative rather than positive reinforcement-complaining
about other members' lack of participation, complaining
about too little communication, comparing the team un-
favorably to other teams, or sending messages of com-
plaint to the project coordinator. They described the work
as "extremely frustrating" and as a "frustrating experi-
ence." These actions were viewed as betrayals by the
other team members and did little to reinforce commit-
ment among the team.
By contrast, the leadership role of the high trust teams
emerged after an individual had produced something or
exhibited skills, ability, or interest critical for the role.
Moreover, the leadership role was not static but rather
rotated among members, depending on the task to be ac-
complished. Those taking leadership roles maintained a
positive tone, such as in HiHi2 where Pattie prodded a
member for one of the assignments but explained that she
was "not complaining, just letting you know" and where
Julian of HiHi3 sent a private message to a member who
failed to complete an assignment, rather
than singling her
out with a message to the entire team.
8. Transition
from Procedural to Task Focus. HiLo
trust teams exchanged many messages on rules, or pro-
cedures. The emphasis on procedures, such as on how
often to check e-mail, helped to provide an illusion of
certainty, but in the absence of any mechanism to enforce
the rules or even monitor the other members' compliance,
any member could reemerge and blame his absence on
technological problems. The HiLo teams were unable to
move beyond setting rules. In contrast, all LoHi teams
demonstrated an ability to move from a procedural ori-
entation to a task orientation. Once they began focusing
on the task, they were undisturbed
by negative comments
or by missing team members. The HiHi teams were also
able to make a successful transition from a social and/or
procedural focus to a task orientation.
9. Phlegmnatic
Reaction to Crisis. All three HiHi
teams experienced some turbulence that could have per-
manently disrupted the teams. Yet these teams were
marked by an ability to remain phlegmatic during crises.
All three teams experienced difficulties related to the
choice of a topic for the final project-two teams discov-
ered after they had chosen a topic that other websites
existed covering the same idea; one team had difficulty
reaching an agreement over an idea. Another temporary
source of turbulence for one team coincided with a sud-
den change in the communication regularity of the key
member and disagreement over the division of work.
Even in the early stages, the HiHi trust teams, unlike the
LoLo trust teams, were unconcerned over failing to fully
complete the first two exercises on time; rather, they kept
prodding the members who did not complete the exer-
cises to complete them after the deadline, not because the
completion was needed but because they were generally
interested in the other members.
The objective of this study was to explore via an analysis
of communication behaviors whether and how trust exists
and/or develops in global virtual teams comprised of in-
dividuals who communicate electronically across time,
space, and culture on a short-term basis without any prior
common history or anticipated future. The research was
directed by three questions. We will next discuss the re-
sults for those three questions.
Trust in Global Virtual Teams
The first question explored whether trust can exist in
global virtual teams. The global virtual team was defined
by three dimensions: (1) no common past or future, (2)
culturally diverse and geographically dispersed, and (3)
communicating electronically (see Figure 1). The tradi-
tional conceptualization of trust assumes that trust
in personal relationships and past or future memberships
in common social networks that define the shared norms
of obligation and responsibility (Bradach and Eccles
1988; Powell 1990). The lack of past and future associ-
ation decreases the potential existence of trust. The di-
versity in cultural and geographic backgrounds should
similarly challenge the potential existence of trust
(Bradach and Eccles 1989, Mayer et al. 1995). Finally,
Handy (1995) argues that trust needs physical touch,
which the current
technological context also eliminated.
The 12 case studies portray many challenges that the
global virtual teams had. But did the teams exhibit trust-
ing behavior? The current
study explored this question by
examining electronic mail archives (case studies) of
teams with various levels of self-reported trust obtained
via questionnaire data. On one hand, the teams that re-
ported high levels of trust in the beginning and at the end
to be more capable of managing the uncertainty,
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E. LEIDNER Communication
and Trust
complexity, and expectations of the virtual environment
than the teams that reported low levels of trust in the
beginning and/or at the end. On the other hand, the com-
munication archives contained little evidence of the depth
of socialization, courtship, and social identification that
is traditionally associated with interpersonal or socially
based trust (Lewicki and Bunker 1995, 1996; Sheppard
and Tuchinsky 1996). Trust in the HiHi and possibly in
LoHi teams may have taken the form of swift, deperson-
alized, action-based trust. Trusting behavior may itself
have provided the cognitive and emotional basis for the
trust that was then captured by self-reports on trust.
Developmental View
Question two explored how trust might be developed in
a team. In swift trust (Meyerson et al. 1996, p. 192), "un-
less one trusts quickly, one may never trust at all." The
survey data suggest that out of the 29 teams, only four
teams shifted to a high trust condition from a low initial
trust condition. The first messages on the team appeared
to set the tone for how the team interrelated.
The adage
''you can never give a second first impression" seems to
apply to electronic impressions as well.
Consistent with the SIDE model, members of the HiHi
and HiLo teams appeared to enter the team collaboration
with confidence and optimism although they had no in-
formation on which to assume the trustworthiness
of the
other members. In the LoLo and LoHi teams, the mem-
bers appeared to be more skeptical in their early com-
munication about what the team would be able to accom-
plish. Meyerson et al. (1996) maintain that in swift trust,
members make categorical judgments of others based on
positive stereotypes. Given that the members in our
global virtual teams were not identifiable by their roles
nor necessarily by their national origin (many members
were located in countries other than their home country),
it is unclear what stereotypes might have been evoked.
Hence, it might be that trust was created swiftly based on
the members' imported propensity to initiate or to re-
spond to the first electronic communication stimuli rather
than based on any particular
The findings are consistent with other research on the
temporal aspects of group development (Gersick 1988,
Gersick and Hackman 1990). In her study of naturally
occurring groups, Gersick (1988) was struck by how the
behavioral patterns
that emerged in the first meeting per-
sisted through the first half of the group's life. According
to Gersick (1988), the patterns appeared "as early as the
first few seconds of a group's life" (p. 33). Gersick and
Hackman (1990) maintain that these early and lasting pat-
terns occur either (1) by importation or (2) by creation.
Importation happens when an outsider prespecifies the
pattern of behavior, or alternatively, when a homoge-
neous team shares the same a priori expectations of ap-
propriate behavior. Creation occurs when the team is new,
heterogenous, and self-managing. In such cases, team
members bring in propensities for initiating and respond-
ing to communication stimuli and interaction processes
rather than transporting
ready-made patterns from other
contexts. The way members respond to particular
in the first communication event will generate patterns
that will last persistently in the team. Under the creation
scenario, we would expect to see very widely diverse
communication behaviors across different groups as we
did across the 12 case studies. Interestingly, Gersick' s
(1988) finding of midpoint transitions in project teams
was not evident in the current
teams' communication ar-
chives: only one of the 12 global virtual teams appeared
to go through a clear midpoint transition that allowed a
change in communication behaviors. This might
suggest that in global virtual teams, it is particularly
lenging to encourage groups to reflect upon, learn from,
and redirect, as appropriate,
their communication behav-
The third research question, intertwined with the second
question, explored what communication behaviors might
facilitate trust in global virtual teams. McGrath's (1991,
1994) TIP model suggests that new teams that work on a
complex and unfamiliar task and face technological un-
certainty will have to engage in all four production
modes: inception, problem solving, conflict resolution,
and execution. Such teams must also devote time to the
various modes of group well-being and member support
to be able to progress through problems and conflict. Our
case results suggest that when faced with technical/task
uncertainty early in the group's life, teams high on trust
were able to solve problems and resolve conflicts in an
environment where they were limited to electronic com-
munication. The study also found that teams communi-
cate both task and social information.
The theory of swift trust discounts member-support
group well-being functions as unnecessary (Meyerson et
al. 1996). By contrast, the TIP theory maintains that the
relational links between the members and between the
member and the rest of the group are of paramount im-
portance for new teams with no common past. Our results
suggest complementarity between these two theories:
those teams that did not become strongly focused in their
communication on the task reported
low levels of trust at
the end, yet the task focus in communication could co-
exist in parallel with the social focus. Two of the HiHi
teams continued to exchange social messages throughout
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
the project although they were clearly task focused. These
results are consistent with findings that social exchanges
can make computer mediated groups "thicker"
as long as
the social exchange is not at the expense of a task focus
(Adler 1995, Walther and Burgoon 1992, Chidambaram
The current
study also extends the theory of swift trust.
Meyerson et al. (1996) deemphasized commitment
("There is less emphasis on ... commitment ...") be-
cause of the long-term reputational
effects and clear role
clarity. In the teams with high trust, there were explicit
verbal statements about commitment, support, and ex-
citement. Although prior research has found that mem-
bers in computer mediated groups tend to express less
excitement and support (Rice and Love 1987), the ex-
pression of such enthusiasm, if achieved, increases the
attraction to the group, tendency for agreement, and co-
operation (Fulk 1993).
Another finding of the study that might be endemic to
virtually communicating temporal teams was the role of
response. Our data supports the view of Meyerson et al.
(1996) that initiatives (e.g., volunteering to complete
tasks) appear to strengthen and unify the team, but the
case data also suggest that the responses to the initiatives
might be even more important. Because computer medi-
ated communication entails greater
than face-
to-face communication, there tends to be an "intense need
for response" (Hawisher and Moran 1993). A response is
an endorsement that another person is willing to take the
risk of interpreting
the first person'
s message and, if nec-
essary, supplying the missing elements to make it under-
standable. Interpreted by Pearce (1974) to be a trusting
behavior, a response also suggests involvement, and in-
volvement conveys attraction, intimacy, attachment, and
affection (Manusov et al. 1997).
Finally, one might be surprised by the lack of cultural
effects in the study. The insignificance of culture in pre-
dicting perceived levels of trust as well as the lack of
individuating information exchange may be related to the
fact that the respondents were of similar ages, functional
backgrounds, and educational levels. Additionally, elec-
tronically facilitated communication may make cultural
differences insalient: the lack of nonverbal cues elimi-
nates evidence of cultural differences, such as different
ways of dressing, gesticulating, and greeting. Likewise,
the written media eliminates the effect of accents which
would again reduce the saliency of differences in cultural
background. In addition, because the asynchronous mode
gives individuals more time to process messages and re-
spond, there might be fewer language errors, particularly
among nonnative speakers of the language being used by
the group, which would in turn reduce the saliency of
differences in cultural background. Hence, by making
cultural differences less noticeable, the medium may
thereby increase the perceived similarity among mem-
In summary, the results of the study suggest that in
global virtual teams, trust might take on a form of swift
trust with some variations. Trust might be imported, but
is more likely created via a communication behavior es-
tablished in the first few keystrokes. Communication that
rallies around the project and tasks appears to be neces-
sary to maintain trust. Social communication that com-
plements rather than substitutes for task communication
may strengthen trust. Finally, responding behaviors are
as critical as initiating behaviors, and members have to
explicitly verbalize their commitment, excitement, and
There are several limitations that warrant
mention before
discussing implications. Although we observed naturally
occurring teams, these teams were student teams where
risks and rewards were grade based. The team members
used primarily asynchronous electronic mail technology,
and, on occasion, chat room technology; videoconferenc-
ing was not possible. The characteristics of the commu-
nication medium influence the communication behaviors
(Straus and McGrath 1994). On the one hand, one might
argue that the context was inordinately contrived by lim-
iting teams to electronic communication. On the other
hand, the context provides a rare opportunity
to examine
pure virtual interaction free from the influences of face-
to-face interaction. Such research will, in the long run,
not only afford us instruction as to the extent to which
teams are able to work virtually, but also provide insight
into the appropriate
design of technology and group pro-
cesses that facilitate virtual interaction.
The study can be criticized in several ways from the
way trust was operationalized. Trust assumes that risk is
present (Deutch 1958) and that members have alterna-
tives (Luhmann 1988). The final project was designed to
be a collaborative task, and the students were graded on
their contributions to the task by their team members.
This information was shared with their professors. All
professors whose students were invited to participate
were informed that the collaboration should count be-
tween 20% to 40% toward a grade in a course a student
was taking at a time. Nevertheless, there were discrep-
ancies in course credit and reputational
effects, and hence
in the participants' risk level. As an alternative to team
cooperation, the project could conceivably have been
completed by one person, although the workload was im-
mense. The students could also have colluded with mem-
bers of other teams who resided in the same university.
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E. LEIDNER Communication and Trust
What is unknown is the extent to which participants were
aware of these alternatives. Also, the study did not have
any self-report measures of swift trust, only traditional
conceptualizations of trust.
Finally, the members were not
assigned to teams to serve well-defined roles as the theory
of swift trust assumes.
Another methodological weakness relates to the re-
sponse rates of the surveys. It is possible that many of the
least effective teams (and perhaps, least trusting) were not
considered for analysis since the failure to receive at least
two responses to the survey may have indicated a low
level of participation on the team. Additionally, the lack
of an objective measure of effectiveness renders conjec-
tures about the implications of trust on objective team
effectiveness impossible.
The external validity of the results might be faulted on
having used students as participants. One should note,
however, that the students were in master's programs
that most had significant work experience. Finally, the
group size of all the teams was between four and six
members. Such large-sized groups might face greater
ficulties in the computer-mediated communication envi-
ronments (Valacich et al. 1992). Perhaps the most serious
concern of external validity is that the exercise repre-
sented many students' first experience in virtual teams
(Hollingshead et al. 1993).
Theoretical Implications
Integrating research on trust and temporary organiza-
tional forms with group development literature
as well as
with computer-mediated and cross-cultural communica-
tion research, this study suggests implications for the spe-
cific theories. The boundaries for the traditional concep-
tualizations of trust may need to be reexamined and
possibly reopened: trust in virtual teams appears to be
somewhat depersonalized, but perhaps not as deperson-
alized as described in Meyerson et al.'s swift trust
Also, trust might be initially created, rather than im-
ported, via communication behaviors in global virtual
teams. The case studies portray marked variations in the
levels of communication richness across teams, suggest-
ing that the information richness is an interaction between
the people, tasks, the organizational context, and perhaps
familiarity with the technology in use. The study also
raises questions about how technology might obliterate,
reduce, or delay the effects of culture and cultural diver-
sity on communication behaviors when the setting is to-
tally virtual.
The above theoretical implications must take into con-
sideration that this study cannot provide any definite an-
swers as to the existence and nature of trust in global
virtual teams. Nevertheless, the case studies provide a
rich basis for proceeding with such questions. In our case
studies, the types of problems (unreliable technology,
agreeing on ideas, dealing with nonparticipating mem-
bers) were common in low and high trust teams; hence,
the LoLo teams and HiHi teams were not distinct in terms
of the circumstances they faced, but rather in the individ-
ual members' and teams' reactions to these circum-
stances. We therefore proffer, in contradiction to the
opening quote of this paper, that it is viable to build upon
and extend theories from the traditional communication
contexts rather than assume that an entirely new sociol-
ogy of group communication and interaction behavior is
Implications for Practice
Some practical implications can be drawn from the study.
For the manager of a virtual team, one of the factors that
might contribute to smooth coordination early in the ex-
istence of the team is a clear definition of responsibilities,
as a lack of clarity may lead to confusion, frustration,
disincentive. Particularly if the work is only part of the
team members' organizational responsibilities, which is
likely to be the case, providing guidelines on how often
to communicate and, more importantly, inculcating a reg-
ular pattern of communication, will increase the predict-
ability, and reduce the uncertainty, of the team's coordi-
nation. Furthermore, ensuring that the team members
have a sense of complementary objectives and share in
the overall aim of the team will help prevent the occur-
rence of desultory participation.
Another critical factor will be the effective handling of
conflict. One strategy is to address perceived discontent
as early as noticed: emotions left unchecked in the virtual
environment might erupt
into sequences of negative com-
ments which will be difficult to resolve asynchronously.
Another strategy in handling conflict will be to address
as much as possible only the concerned individual and to
avoid sending the entire team those messages dealing
with the potentially conflict. Finally, not all individuals
may be equally adept at handling the uncertainty and re-
sponsibilities inherent in virtual work. Managers should
carefully choose individuals for virtual teamwork; such
qualities as responsibility, dependability, independence,
and self-sufficiency, while desirable even in face-to-face
settings, are crucial to the viability of virtual teamwork.
For the participants on virtual teams, there are some
observations derived from our study which may be rele-
vant to practice. Although it is not necessarily critical to
meet in person, it is critical to engage in an open and
thoughtful exchange of messages at the beginning of the
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team's existence. Cavalier attitudes that the virtual envi-
ronment is no more challenging than a face-to-face en-
vironment prove to have ephemeral effects on participant
enthusiasm, and once difficulties arise, the team lacks a
substantive foundation upon which to overcome the real
challenges imposed by the virtual context. Participants
should also be aware of the importance of providing the
others with timely and detailed accounts of the work they
are doing. Likewise, participants must be aware of the
need to provide thorough feedback on the contributions
of the other members. Finally, participants should be
aware that it is not the quantity, but the quality and pre-
dictability, of their communication that is most critical to
the effective functioning of the team.
for Future Research
Future research is encouraged to continue to address the
three research questions that guided this work. Does trust
exist in virtual teams and on what is it based? It is qual-
itatively different in terms of its antecedents, develop-
ment, and decline from the traditional
of trust as well as from swift trust as described in
Meyerson et al. (1996)? Why are some groups capable of
addressing problems and conflicts early on in the group's
life, whereas others are not? What are the necessary con-
ditions for virtual teams to learn dynamically and engage
in team processes that allow the teams to redirect their
activities at a halfway point or at a similar logical point
of their life? What are the most effective ways of com-
municating social information in virtual teams? Addition-
ally, systematic research is needed on the virtual team
member profile, task requirements, technology capabili-
ties, and other environmental
circumstances that
allow the
team members to react in such a manner as to thicken
than enervate the team in the face of the inevitable
crises that occur in global settings. We need to understand
the effective leadership styles and contrast virtual teams
with and without initial face-to-face contact. The issues
of member diversity also await exploration. Finally, from
an organizational standpoint, how is knowledge and
learning best transferred from one globally dispersed vir-
tual team to another?
The virtual environment environment is bespeckled with
uncertainty: Are other individuals reading the messages,
and if not, why not? Are they having technical problems,
or are they not committed? Such uncertainties militate
against the development of trust and challenge the via-
bility and longevity of global virtual teams. This has led
to the argument that trust may not be possible in global
virtual teams (Handy 1995). Yet, our exploratory study
suggests that trust can exist in teams built purely on elec-
tronic networks. The study describes a number of com-
munication behaviors and member actions that distin-
guished global virtual teams with high trust from global
virtual teams with low trust. Encouraging such behaviors
and actions on the part
of members of global virtual
might help to foster a climate condusive to the existence
of trust.
The authors
wish to think Kathleen Knoll at the University of Colorado,
Denver, for the critical coordinator role on this project. We also thank
the three anonymous reviewers and the Special Issue Editors for highly
constructive and detailed guidance.
Appendix 1
Measures of Trust
Trust (adapted from Mayer et al. 1995)
If I had my way, I wouldn't let the other team members have any
influence over issues that are important to the project.
I would be comfortable giving the other team members complete
responsibility for the completion of this project.
I really wish I had a good way to oversee the work of the other team
members on the project.
I would be comfortable giving the other team members a task or
problem which was critical to the project, even if I could not monitor
Trust (adapted from Pierce et al. 1992)
Members of my work group show a great deal of integrity.
I can rely on those with whom I work in this group.
Overall, the people in my group are very trustworthy.
We are usually considerate of one another's feelings in this work
The people in my group are friendly.
There is no "team spirit" in my group.
There is a noticeable lack of confidence among those with whom I
We have confidence in one another in this group.
These questions were responded to on a five-point scale of 1 =
strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither disagree nor agree, 4 =
agree, 5 = strongly agree.
Table 1A Final Items and Reliability of the Trust Measure
Alpha if
item deleted
Overall, the people in my group were
very trustworthy. 0.88
We were usually considerate of one another's feelings
on this team. 0.91
The people in my group were friendly. 0.91
I could rely on those with whom I worked in my group. 0.90
Overall, the people in my group were very trustworthy. 0.88
Overall Alpha: 0.92
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