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By Design: Building Trust in Virtual Teams | Beach | Shared Knowledge Conference Journal

By Design: Building Trust in Virtual Teams

Melisa Beach, Sue Coates, Carol Hinton, Denise Montoya

Final_Model-1.jpgUniversity of New Mexico - Albuquerque

OLIT 601 Advanced Instructional Design

Fall 2012

Instructor: Charlotte N. (Lani) Gunawardena, Ph.D.

December 5, 2012

Slightly revised for Shared Knowledge Conference, May 15, 2013


demand for virtual teams is growing due to the impacts of intensified
organizational globalization and enhanced computer and communication
technologies. The new workforce that is emerging has the ability to
telecommute, posing such challenges as time, physical space, and
utilization of human capital. This team determined that "trust" is the
essential ingredient in successful performance of virtual teams and
developed a new model for designing instruction when the learners are
geographically dispersed. We found that virtual teams generally do not
take time to develop trust and start performing almost immediately after
the team is formed. To address the need to establish and maintain
trust, we developed a 5-phase model entitled “By Design: Building Trust
in Virtual Teams”. The five stages of the model are Engage, Learn,
Perform, Reflect/Re-engage, and Evaluate. The first four stages develop
over time, starting with cognitive-based trust and merging it with
affective-based trust which gradually becomes dominant, and with the
fifth stage continuously and iteratively reinforcing and sustaining the
trust being developed. Our research indicates that this model meets the
challenge of building trust, which is the key element in the success of
virtual teams.

Keywords: virtual team, trust, cognitive based learning, affective based learning

By Design: Building Trust in Virtual Teams

demand for virtual teams is growing due to the impacts of intensified
organizational globalization and enhanced computer and communication
technologies. Coupled with that demand, a new workforce is emerging with
the ability to telecommute, posing unique challenges such as time,
physical space, and utilization of human capital. These challenges have
underscored the importance of establishing and maintaining trust in all
types of teams. Trust is a necessary prerequisite for achieving high
performance with any team, and that condition is intensified in
successful virtual teams.

paper will explore the topic of trust as a crucial component of virtual
teams and introduce a new model of instructional design that addresses
this essential requirement. First, a brief definition of virtual teams
will be provided, followed by a discussion of the two types of trust:
cognitive based and affective based. Next, support for the model will be
provided through examining existing theories on trust and virtual
teams, confirming that a strong relationship exists between trust,
communication, and performance, and reveals some of the challenges for
building trust, and offers possible solutions. The presentation of data
that built the foundation will be followed by the introduction of a new
instructional design model for establishing and maintaining trust in
virtual teams and a description of the various phases of the model.
Finally, a brief explanation will be provided of the model’s relevance
and application to instructional design.

Virtual Teams

teams are defined by Ebrahim (2009) as having four common components:
geographically dispersed over different time zones, driven by a common
purpose, enabled by communication technologies, and involved in
cross-boundary collaboration.
Although these components are not
exclusive to virtual teams, working in a virtual world requires
different behaviors than traditional environments in order to
successfully communicate and collaborate. Virtual team members must
relinquish behaviors such as being analytical, quick to act, or
controlling. Instead, virtual team members need to acquire new

 Develop the ability to collaborate
 Make decisions cooperatively with full participation
 Discover ways to capitalize on dissimilarities by celebrating uniqueness
 Find commonalities (embracing diversity and welcoming inclusion)
 Minimize the disconnectedness by building trust and unity through team identity
to Nemiro, J., Beyerlein, M., Bradley, L., & Beyerlein, S. (2008),
virtual teams are challenged by both external and internal factors that
determine success in the results achieved by these teams. The
stimulating external factors that tend to be out of the team’s control
include distance, time, and technology; whereas, the challenging
internal factors that teams do have control over are the culture, trust,
and leadership capabilities. Ultimately, we believe one of the key
mechanisms for impacting the uncontrollable factors is to implement an
instructional design where establishing the two types of trust begins
immediately and is maintained throughout the lifetime of the virtual


is “the extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to act on
the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another”
(McAllister, 1995). Two types of trust that we identified as essential
to virtual teams are cognitive and affective. Kanawattanachai & Yoo
(2002) define examples of cognitive based trust (CBT) as competence,
reliability, professionalism, and integrity, and affective based trust
(ABT) as caring and emotional connection to each other, and concern for
the welfare of partners. Although their research suggests that the
formation and maintenance of trust relies more on a cognitive action
than an affective relationship, our model demonstrates that over time
the affective relationship becomes more dominant to the team dynamics.

virtual teams, developing task-relevant background information
initially builds a foundation for CBT because it establishes credibility
for each team member. As a result, ABT can extend that foundation,
thus creating an emotional connection among team members. However,
trust can be built as easily as it can be destroyed within a team.
Cognitively, one can assess the degree of violation of trust; however,
affectively, emotions, stress, and disappointment are at stake. Trust is
fragile. Patterns of each type of trust change depending on how well
teams perform.

relationships can form virtually if provided enough time to do so. Time
allows on-going interactions and experience working together.
Typically, time is limited in virtual teams; therefore, team members may
not have enough time to collect sufficient information about team
members that would imply a level of trust to achieve the goal set forth.
Teams with a high level of trust engage in continuous and frequent
communications to include socializing with each other.

Theoretical Foundations

research states, “Nowhere is trust more critical than in teams where
members bring divergent goals, values, and ideologies, and where trust
has been viewed as an ‘efficacious means’ for ensuring a successful
collaboration. The issue of trust is even more problematic in the
context of distributed teams where members (1) often do not have a
shared history, (2) are ‘geographically dispersed,’ (3) are initially
unknown to each other and lack a ‘shared social context,’ and (4)
interact primarily through electronic media, with very limited
‘face-to-face encounters’” (Sarker, S., Ahuja, M., Sarker, S., &
Kirkeby, S., 2011). These authors conducted a study to provide clarity
to the understanding of theoretical linkages among trust, communication,
and member performance in virtual teams. Their conclusion was that a
social network approach explains the interactive connections necessary
for these strong relationships to develop through trust and ongoing
communication. Their study makes an important contribution to the
literature on trust in global virtual teams, particularly in determining
and predicting high-performing individuals, where communication forms
the underlying basis for all social action.

their handbook for achieving high performance in virtual teams, Nemiro
et al. (2008) identified external and internal factors that represent
the primary challenges for building trust. The team cannot impact
external factors such as time of day, distance, and technology. However,
internal elements that can hinder team collaboration and diminish
superior performance can be influenced to promote unity and create
trust. It is this core component of trust in teams that is addressed in
the By Design: Building Trust in Virtual Teams model. Building trust
and minimizing the disconnectedness in virtual and face-to-face teams
are linked to these key factors that are variably controlled by the

& Cohen (2003) found that collective trust is a crucial element of
virtual team functioning and can be challenged by the prominent
differences in culture and lack of face-to-face interaction in virtual
teams. Development of collective trust requires ongoing communication
and multiple opportunities for team members to interact and exchange
information. As a result of their findings that low interdependence of
virtual teams impedes trust building, the authors suggest a direct
correlation exists between the frequency and variation of communication
among members and enhancing mutual dependence. They conclude that
communication promotes cooperative relationships, provides insightful
information about the personalities of team members, establishes a
foundation for developing common values, and encourages continued
interaction. Their findings support previous discussions of
communication’s role in building affective based trust.

effectiveness of both virtual teams and face-to-face teams depends on
the basic quality of team member interaction. Nemiro et al. (2008) posit
that habits of interaction which display trust and respect are critical
to effective sharing of information. The norms of behavior are more
complicated than face-to-face teams because of the mix of cultures that
is sometimes present, but the behaviors remain fundamentally alike.
Courteous, respectful, thoughtful behavior everywhere is referred to as
etiquette. The authors coined the term VEtiquette to represent the special subset of behaviors required in a virtual team.

teams could use a variety of tools to promote interaction and establish
a foundation of reciprocated communication that would encourage trust,
creativity, collaboration and socialization. Duarte & Snyder (2006)
compiled a best practice library on virtual team tools that describes
the possible tools for a virtual team and how they could be used. In the
past, a virtual team has basically had the choice of customary
synchronous media and asynchronous tools. However, some hybrid tools are
emerging, such as virtual team collaboration portals, and new platforms
that combine social networking with information organization, offering
formal connections to facilitate informal communication.

New Model

augment the current theories and models of virtual team performance,
and the relationship of trust as a key factor to its success, a new
model is proposed. By Design: Building Trust in Virtual Teams (BTVT)
Instructional Model is founded to integrate the development of trust in
parallel with the process of instructional design. The BTVT model
represents the process that a virtual team goes through while building
trust. By designing instruction using the five stages of the Model, the
team's trust will develop in the context of the instruction, which is
more meaningful and expeditious than in the traditional Analysis,
Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation (ADDIE) model

1. How cognitive-based trust (CBT) and affective-based trust (ABT)
grow as the virtual team progresses through its four linear phases and
the continuous evaluation phase.

at the base of the arrow, the virtual team is formed. Traveling along
the arrow shows how the team develops and transitions throughout the
team’s engagement. The arrow grows over time just as trust grows within
and among the team members over this time. At the formation of the team,
the designer should focus on CBT. As the team develops, the focus
transitions to a merging of both CBT and ABT, and subsequently to focus
on ABT. This transition is needed because working relationships
typically begin cognitively and become affective over time, especially
among strangers, not the other way around, so the model comfortably fits
this tendency.

model has five stages which help in the team trust development process.
The four linear stages which develop over time are: Engage, Learn,
Perform, and Reflect/Reengage, and the fifth parallel stage, Evaluate,
takes place continuously throughout the group process. Each of these
stages is described in detail in the following sections.


the engagement phase of the model, it is important to employ methods
that build cognitive based trust in the virtual team. Teams require
different types of cognitive skills including technical expertise,
problem-solving and decision-making skills, active listening, feedback,
conflict resolution, and other interpersonal skills. As each individual
team member’s abilities are maximized and self-efficacy develops, the
team will become synergistic and increase its capacity to achieve
performance goals.

the “Engage” phase establishes the competence level in each
participating member and begins to cultivate collective identity for the
team. This may be accomplished through self-introductions enabling
discovery of commonalities/dissimilarities, identifying strengths of
each member, clearly articulating roles and responsibilities, and
reaching agreement on a team communication plan. An important outcome of
this first phase of the model is the identification of leadership and
structure for the team. Members of effective teams trust each other and
exhibit trust in their leaders. When members trust each other, they are
more willing to take risks and to commit to the team’s goals and
decision-making process.

effective engagement tool during this phase may be a leadership style
assessment which helps geographically dispersed people get acquainted
and negotiate working relationships. Other types of IT tools such as
messenger, e-mail, on-line synchronous meeting room, on-line
asynchronous meeting room, and chat room can facilitate communication
and provide methods for measuring individuals' contributions. All of
these options are conducted on-line and contribute to building cognitive
based trust.

of the Engage phase of the model is part of the continuous evaluation
phase of the model, and uses data collection and analysis protocols such
as conference calls, communication logs, project documentation, emails,
e-circle logs, chat sessions, and Web board discussion messages. They
will be captured, recorded and archived, as well as all tests conducted,
surveys and interview responses, and documentation of any conflicts and
their resolutions.


next phase in the model focuses on the learning aspect of building
trust in virtual teams. Although learning takes place during all of the
phases in the model, this particular one emphasizes the opportunity to
begin building affective based trust through social connection and
collaboration using social media and VEtiquette techniques to build
strong emotionally safe relationships with virtual team members.

“Taxonomy of Instructional Design Functions” (Morrison, G., Ross, S.,
Kalman, H., & Kemp, J., 2011) establishes various components that
will enhance learning about trust factors in the relationships of
virtual team members. In the taxonomy below, the “components” may be
viewed as nodes on a concept map, and the “descriptions” are the
subordinate methods for each. Following the explanations that are
summarized and paraphrased from Morrison, et al. (2011), there is a list
of “development tools” suggested by this project team for use in
developing instruction specifically for building trust in virtual teams.
Step size, pacing, and cues support affective based trust, whereas,
concrete materials and maintaining consistency support cognitive based

Components Description
Concrete materials Pictures/images
Step size Terminology, references
Pacing Examples and elaborations
Consistency Terminology used
Cues Highlighting points

Concrete materials.
A mix of abstract and concrete information increases the learner’s
interest and recall of the information (Sadosky, M., Goetz, E. &
Fritz, J., 1993). Also, a personalized style, if not overdone, might
increase learner interest and thus encourage engaging in cognitive
processing (Mayer, R.E., Fennel, M. S., Farmer, L., & Cambell, J.,
2004). The main feature of concrete materials is that they readily
create a mental image for abstract ideas that cannot be visualized
easily as the three suggested examples below suggest:

Use illustrations such as drawings, graphics, graphs, and photographs that draw the learner’s attention, accompanied by text explaining what is being illustrated and how it relates to learning objectives.
Use concrete words that are shorter, and active sentences, and avoid making the learner interpret the text in order to understand what to do.
Use examples to explain abstract ideas, and elaborate on the ideas, to create the concreteness they naturally lack.
Step Size.
Step size is the amount of jump or transition between ideas, and it
needs to be controlled or minimized. Learners without prior supporting
knowledge need smaller steps between the concepts presented, along with
contextual cues that provide a familiar frame of reference. Two
strategies are recommended to facilitate the rendering of new
information to make it easier to comprehend:

Use consistent terminology throughout the instruction to eliminate the need for learners to translate or interpret.
Provide references to prior learning as a transition from one unit or idea to the next.
Appropriate Pacing.
Adapted to the intended audience, pace is how quickly the steps or
chunks are presented. Pace is controlled by the amount of material
within each chunk, and the amount of transition material that is
inserted between them. Quick learners can have fewer illustrations and
examples and brief explanations, whereas novices with little or no prior
knowledge will need more illustrations and examples, and perhaps, more
repetition in the presentation. Even advanced audiences would need a
slower pace with more difficult material or novel concepts. If the
audience seems bored or distracted, consider skipping or adding examples
to adapt the presentation.

Consulting or creating a style guide helps learners trust the
instruction by ensuring the use of consistent terminology and format of
the instructional materials. Experts often assume readers or learners
understand, when in fact, novices are confused by vague or inconsistent
terms. Making the learner translate or interpret specialized terminology
also causes a delay in knowledge absorption. Even if the terminology
must be technical or unfamiliar to the audience, keeping it consistent
and always defining specialized language is important.

A cue is a highlight or bullet point that is intended to capture the
learner’s attention and be easy to recall. Numbered lists, summary
tables, or a simple concept map are examples of cues. “Developing the
instruction includes identifying the cues and then accurately
communicating them to the learner.” (Morrison et al., 2011).


third phase of the model encompasses the building of trust as the
performance is initiated. Performing is doing what the team came
together to do. Virtual teams start performing while they are still
learning and they continue to learn as they continue to perform. Thus,
as virtual teams begin to apply their learning, it is important to
maintain the trust that has been created in the first two phases.
Instilling a sense of unity began at the formation stage of the team,
through the development of cognitive based trust and affective based
trust, and continues to reinforce the team’s performance while executing
its goals. The prior experiences of the members have been activated
from the early efforts to foster a shared understanding of one another,
involving cultural orientations and identifying limitations and
strengths from previous involvement with virtual teams.

Reflect and Reengage

phase of reflection and reengagement is not a linear process as
portrayed in some instructional design models. Reflection is intent
consideration which is calm and requires some time; in this case, it is
pensiveness about something that has transpired during work or some
occurrence involving the virtual team. In virtual teams, each individual
can and should have the time and space in which to reflect. This
contemplation requires an actual space, set aside at each facility to
promote deliberation and constructive feedback.

is an isolated activity and must be accompanied by a socializing
activity for re-engagement to occur. Allowing for frequent feedback
during the course of working together is necessary for the team members
to negotiate individual needs and to manage conflict. In a virtual team,
due to its high degree of non-visual communication, the feedback
process serves as an early warning system (Gibson & Cohen, 2003).
Both cognitive based trust and affective based trust are substantiated
by face to face communication and inculcate the critical component of
building social networking in teams.

the team advances through its tasks, members have new experiences that
increase or decrease their level of commitment, and utilizing tools to
encourage face-to-face communication is important for supporting both
kinds of trust. Videoconferencing, FaceTime, GChat and Skype are useful
alternatives to face to face for promoting live exchange of information
and building rapport among virtual team members. These same tools can
provide a vehicle for engaging the members in demonstrating positive
behaviors that are critical for reinforcing the team culture and
collective identity (Sarker, et al., 2011).


virtual team performance traditionally falls at the end of projects for
identifying “what worked well and what needs improvement.” This model
views evaluation as an essential component throughout all phases and,
when assimilated into the entire process, can effectively lead to
improvements in developing team trust. It is invaluable, and through
appropriate application, can be used to measure as many aspects of a
virtual team as can be quantified, appraised, and utilized to increase
performance. Evaluation must be implemented consistently during each
phase of the model, using varied methods and customized tools that are
ubiquitous, innovative and systematic. This ensures the virtual team is
achieving maximum results while establishing strong affective based
trust and cognitive based trust.

continuing evaluation process begins within the first two weeks of
establishing the virtual team. Each team member uses an online Measures
of Trust Scale, which includes nine survey items adapted from Jarvenpaa
and Leidner (1999), beginning the establishment of trust. Appendix A is
an example adapted from two sources, (Mayer, et al., 2004) and (Pearce,

taking this survey, a team-building event would take place on-site
and/or on-line, perhaps using Skype. This event would have common goals
for all participants, building individual trust and cooperation, not
competition. Social exchanges help to facilitate trust early on in the
team’s existence, and socialization tactics turn newcomers into
effective group members. The event would not only reward team members
with positive results, but would also reward those members who help
others achieve superior results and who are supportive in attaining high
affective based trust for everyone.

virtual team can be evaluated as it progresses through the five stages
of Bruce Tuckman’s well-known model of team development, which is
explained by Denise Bonebright in her HRDI article (Bonebright, 2010):

How well did the team members get acquainted? Were roles and tasks
clarified, and relationships established through discussion and

How seriously does the group experience conflict and resistance to
each other and to the task? Do the members seek to retain security and
express a lack of unity?

Is the group developing cohesion and becoming an entity? Does the
team agree on objectives and contribute equally to determine how tasks
will be executed? Are conflicts resolved or avoided and is harmony

How well are team objectives and goals accomplished? Are roles becoming
flexible and functional? Is group energy channeled into the task?

How well does the team disband after accomplishing goals and
objectives? Is separation reflected as an important issue throughout
the life of the group?

evaluate the progression of a virtual team through the phases of the
new model, a survey of teamwork activities and behavior can measure
individuals’ expected trust norms from each developmental stage at the
beginning of the team’s formation through completion of the project.
Appendix B is an example of how to do this. It can be conducted on-line
and the results can be used to provide appreciative feedback about the
differences between team members and their experiences in building both
affective based trust and cognitive based trust. Another

tool developed by Tseng, Wang, Ku and Sun (2009), measures virtual
teamwork satisfaction and learning at several intervals during a project
to correct and align any trust issues.

a knowledge management system (KMS) can support ongoing evaluation of
the performance and engagement in a virtual team can be supported
through the. The instructional design demonstration in Appendix C
recommends one such system ((Salisbury, 2008). Not only does a KMS
improve the team’s ability to complete the tasks, it provides a shared
stage for maintaining the trust necessary for continued execution of the
tasks. Twitter, wikis, and bookmarks are tools that can be components
of a collaboration site for accessing, applying, and integrating new
knowledge. In addition to sourcing and exchanging information, a KMS
allows for complex tasks to be tackled through organizing
responsibilities, decisions, and documents. All of these benefits
contribute to efficient production and infuse a level of confidence that
the team is systematized and structured for optimal trust maintenance.
Embedded in a KMS and its responsiveness to various learner types, and
stimulated through its use by virtual team members, CBT and ABT are
strengthened as a consequence of incorporating the KMS into
implementation and continuous evaluation.

Demonstration of Model

example is provided in Appendix C that describes how an instructional
designer might use the new model to build a train-the-trainer workshop
for a virtual team according to the five phases: Engage, Learn, Perform,
and Reflect/Re-engage with constant Evaluation (BTVT).


determined that trust is the essential feature in successful
performance of virtual teams and developed a new model for designing
instruction when the learners are geographically dispersed. We found
that virtual teams do not typically have time to develop trust after
learning how to perform their tasks, and they generally start performing
almost immediately after the team is formed.

document presents the importance of engaging and enhancing trust in
virtual relationships as a critical success factor in high performing
team achievements. Collaboration is crucial in virtual teams because it
builds strength and trust. The level of interdisciplinary collaboration
and enhanced trust extends across the entire team and reaches deep into
every aspect of an organization. Sustaining a culture of teamwork and
harnessing that culture by pooling diverse backgrounds, perspectives,
and experiences, and by enveloping it with a high level of trust,
develops solutions that no individual team member could devise alone.

paradigm of trust will build productive connections in virtual teams
that allow each member an opportunity to work closely and learn from
each other member. Team members will grow to rely on each other, be
inspired by one another, and learn deep and lasting lessons from one
another. The consistency, close collaboration, and spirit of shared
accomplishment create enduring bonds that will have a spillover effect
in the organization.

closely with people who hold very different perspectives requires
individuals to evolve from accepting those differences to relying on
them, which is enhanced by deeper levels of trust. Global networking,
bonding, and collaboration, in which high levels of trust are necessary,
could accomplish this. To address the need to establish and maintain
trust, we developed a 5-phase model entitled “By Design: Building Trust
in Virtual Teams”. The five stages of the model are Engage, Learn,
Perform, Reflect/Re-engage, and Evaluate. The first four stages develop
over time, with the fifth stage continuously reinforcing and sustaining
the trust being developed. Our research indicates that this model meets
the challenge of building trust, which is the key element in the success
of virtual teams.


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By Design: Building Trust in Virtual Teams | Beach | Shared Knowledge Conference Journal

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