Managing Virtual Teams. Building Trust and Managing Conflicts

Essay, 2017

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Managing a virtual Team
2.1 Building Trust
2.2 Conflict Management

3. Conclusion

1. Introduction

At the turn of the century, globalisation and the use of communication technologies enabled organizations to alter their organization based structures from traditional to virtual settings. The use of agile teams, that can be arranged on the fly, has expanded considerably in response to the competitive, complex and challenging business environment. Traditionally, teams operated in face- to-face settings, but with advances in information and communication systems, virtual collaboration has become commonplace. Virtual teams have plenty of advantages. Companies can bring together their best global talents at low cost while offering their employees great flexibility and autonomy. Since team members span multiple time zones and are able to work parallel instead of sequential, organizations are able to significantly reduce their response time and time to market. It is fair to say that the digital evolution is transforming the future of work.

But the benefits of virtual collaboration come with challenges that need to be mastered by organizations. Project coordination, building relationships, establishing trust and achieving effective teamwork are only few aspects that differ from conventional teams when considered in detail. Teams with multi-cultural backgrounds that are geographically dispersed and virtually composed have been in practice and studied for more than three decades. Yet managers still struggle with how to get them perform and collaborate properly. Bad communication, non existing trust and conflicts seem to be the main causes of failure in virtual collaboration.

The world has “grown smaller” since the introduction of the world wide web and communication tools like e-mails, skype, video calls or instant messengers. By deploying those technologies on business processes, managers have been able to remotely harness the diverse skills and talents of their employees from different parts of the world. The benefits of virtual teams explain the reason for their growing popularity and application within organization.According to a study conducted by RW3 (2016) almost every team collaborates using virtual communication tools and 41% of the individuals surveyed in fact never meet in person. Virtual teams are now even more global with members located in more countries. 48 % of respondents revealed that more than half of their teams include members from other nations. That figure was only at 41% in 2014, and at 33% in 2012. These findings show a significant rising trend in utilizing virtual teams.

Many companies today “look” digital but only few actually are. Most organizations successfully digitized internal processes and make use of electronic communication tools, but “being digital” requires much more. Becoming a digital enterprise requires fundamental rethinking in processes and culture. The biggest shifts may be the ones required of the management. Many leaders lack strategies to build and maintain trust among virtual team members and fail to constructively handle conflicts in the absence of face-to-face communication.

Skills in managing conventional teams do not necessarily adapt to managing a virtual team. The required skill set of the manager exceeds the traditional competencies of a leader. Compared to conventional team setups, a virtual context is far more complex to manage as it relies on the ability of trust building, precision in communication, technological know-how, cultural intelligence and an open mind set. Organizations will have to accelerate the empowerment of managers and executives by augmenting their abilities of technology driven leadership and digital processes.

The purpose of this research essay is to understand the characteristics of managing virtual teams by analysing relevant literature, focused on the areas of building trust and managing conflicts in particular. The essay aims to examine the impact and relation that trust and conflict management have with the performance of a team and the group’s cohesion.

2. Managing a virtual Team

Market dynamics, environmental changes and technological advances have accelerated the use of virtual teams in organizations across the globe. A growing number of organizations are adopting the concept of virtual teams to meet the driving factors of globalization, productivity or cost saving. A virtual team in the context of this research essay is defined as being a functioning team, whose members are geographically dispersed, share responsibility for outcomes and rely on technology- mediated communication (Gibson & Cohen, 2003).

In spite of the increasing popularity of virtual teams, organizations tend to pay little attention to how they can function effectively. Recent studies show that the way virtual teams manage upcoming internal conflicts is critical for their success and productivity. Exploring the emergence of conflicts and ways to solve those is essential for managing a virtual team (Shin, 2005).

Managing a global virtual team requires a broad range of skills in addition to traditional leadership expertise. Besides know-how about the technology itself, a manager needs to be specifically trained in communication and being able to create trust. Collective trust is crucial for the team’s performance (Gibson & Cohen, 2003).

2.1 Building Trust

Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, and Camerer (1998) defined collective trust as a psychological state within the members of a team, which is characterized by an acceptance of vulnerability based on expectations of intentions or behaviour. Trust is a crucial element of a team to function and be productive. A virtual collaboration structure challenges collective trust as it combines various cultural influences, sociological backgrounds and lacks the possibility of face-to-face interaction (Gibson & Cohen, 2003). Therefore, it is the leader’s responsibility to strategize ways to build trust and relationship among the members from the beginning of the virtual collaboration.

Because of infrequently occurring face-to-face communication, the manager of a virtual team has hardly any possibility to observe or monitor the individual members. Moreover, the use of computer- based communication eliminates physical cues about interpersonal relations such as warmth, attentiveness and trust (Gibson & Cohen 2003). By introducing the rule of 7-38-55, Mehrabian and Wiener (1967) stated that words, tone of voice and body language respectively account for 7%, 38%, and 55% of interpersonal communication. In consequence, the lack of face-to-face communication has negative impact on communication between team members and their manager. In fact, several studies show that electronically mediated groups have more communication issues then traditional teams.

Language barriers could influence the formation of trust within virtual teams in a multinational context. In a virtual, international team, a variety of languages are spoken by the members. Usually a team agrees on a common language to communicate in advance to alleviate the problem of communicating. However, not everyone is able to express oneself in a foreign language the same way as in the mother tongue. Recent studies investigated the influence of language barriers on trust formation within international teams. The findings showed that the member’s cognitive and emotional reactions to language barriers influenced their trustworthiness and intention to trust (Tenzer, Pudelko & Harzing, 2013).

Difficulties also occur in managing feedback in discussion, (DeSanctis & Monge, 1999) or forming impressions of one another (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986). Nonverbal cues are one of the most important ways of forming first impressions of each other. They are the first form of communication people respond to when they meet for the first time and are universal in language and interpersonal exchanges. The ability to encode and decode nonverbal signals is one of the keys that help when building and maintaining a healthy relationship. In consequence, some theories state that face-to- face communication is crucial for building, remaining or repairing trust in virtual collaboration (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999).

In conclusion, developing trust in a virtual context is more challenging, yet may be even more critical as it often renders other forms of social control and psychological safety less effective or feasible.

When groups first form, people usually share the feeling of “being in the same boat together” and give others the benefit of the doubt as success reflects well on everyone, whereas failure could harm people’s careers. As all group members are usually under pressure to perform, they have little choice but to trust each other. This temporary state of trust in which people initially operate is described as the swift trust (Meyerson, Weick & Kramer, 1996). Managers can take advantage of swift trust and establish sustainable trust among the team members by promoting the competence of the different team members and giving the team direction and clearly defined objectives (Ferrazzi, 2012).

Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt & Camerer (1998) revealed the necessity of risk and interdependence as a foundation to develop sustainable trust within a team. Risk is the perceived probability of loss, interpreted by the decision maker. The fundamental risk is considered essential in economic conceptualizations of trust (Coleman, 1990). In the context of a virtual team, risk creates an opportunity to establish trust (Gibson & Cohen, 2003). Interdependence defines to which degree one party depends on the actions or information of another party in order to achieve a result (Wageman,1995). It describes the level of reliance between the members of the team. The development of collective trust among co-workers requires the opportunity to interact and to exchange information. Those opportunities tend to occur less frequently when interdependence is low. Frequent and deep interaction between people increases interdependence. In general, a high interdependence rate leads to a stronger bound of trust (Gibson & Cohen, 2003).

When a deeper level of mutuality and reliance is reached among the team members, they become increasingly reliant on their colleges for getting work done and even form relationships outside of work, such as friendship and hobby pursuits. In a team context, this development stage is achieved when strong team cohesion is perceived and desired among the members of a team (Luo, 2015). According to Aiken (1992), one of the most fundamental type of group cohesion is social cohesion, where the members stay in the group primarily because they like one another as persons and desire to interact with each other. Another important factor of group cohesion is task cohesion. When task cohesion within a group is high, its members long to remain together primarily because they are involved with the group’s tasks and find them intrinsically rewarding and valuable. Strong task cohesion requires clearly defined group goals and tasks (Raven & Rietsema, 1957). A high level of group cohesion has important impact for the group’s behaviour and trust as it affects both the amount and quality of interaction among members. Furthermore, interaction and communication among highly cohesive group members is usually friendly, cooperative and entails attempts to reach agreements in a cooperative matter (Luo, 2015).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Managing Virtual Teams. Building Trust and Managing Conflicts
International University of Applied Sciences Bad Honnef - Bonn
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Virtual Teams, Management, Virtual Trust, Managing conflicts, conflict management, virtual management, digital management, digital team
Quote paper
Lukas Thielen (Author), 2017, Managing Virtual Teams. Building Trust and Managing Conflicts, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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