Trust and risk-taking in virtual and face-to-face teams - new study

Trust and risk-taking in virtual and face-to-face teams – new study

Trust in teams

Both virtual and face-to-face teams have exactly the same predictors and indicators or outcomes of team trust and they need to be clearer and more purposeful/overt in virtual teams

Interpersonal trust

Interpersonal trust is a key component of any effective human interaction and predicts a wide range of organisational outcomes, including teamwork. Recent studies found that trust is a key predictor of:

• Attitudes and engagement within the team
• Information processing and information-processing accuracy within teams
• General team performance and effectiveness

Interpersonal Trust

Recent research on interpersonal trust

Recent research has found that interpersonal trust is even more important in virtual teams and is even more important and predictive of virtual team outcomes.

Whilst a lot of research has looked at the factors that predict or contribute to interpersonal trust in one-to-one relationships, it has hitherto been assumed that the same factors would predict trust across teams. However, more recent research has shown that, whilst the underlying principles of one-to-one trust building works within a team context, there are additional factors involved. There is also an additional question as to whether or not trust building in face-to-face teams is a different process to that in virtual teams.

A new study

A new study by a team of researchers from the University of Munster and the TU Dortmund University, both in Germany, has looked at what factors predict higher levels of trust in both face-to-face and virtual teams and how high trust teams interact differently to low trust teams.

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Team trust

Team trust refers to the shared willingness of team members to be vulnerable to the actions of other team members based on the shared expectation that the other team members will perform particular actions that are important to the team, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control the other team members (Breuer 2016).


Indicators of high trust teams

Firstly, the researchers found the main indicator of high levels of trust within teams is the predominance of risk-taking behaviours across the team and, in particular, three forms of risk-taking behaviour are indicative of high levels of trust:

  1. Disclosure behaviours
  2. Reliance on each other
  3. Contact seeking behaviours

…the main indicator of high levels of trust within teams is the predominance of risk-taking behaviours across the team

Disclosure behaviours

Two particular types of behaviour were found to be indicative of disclosure behaviours:

  1. Sharing confidential and personal information
  2. Openly discussing mistakes, errors and conflicts

Reliance behaviours

The study found that two particular types of behaviour could be used to show high levels of inter-team reliance:

  1. The predominance of assistance seeking from each other
  2. Low levels of control seeking behaviour, such as micromanagement or checking and monitoring each other

Contact seeking behaviours

The researchers discovered that there are two primary indicators that are strongly suggestive of higher levels of contact seeking behaviours:

  1. Affirmation of future teamwork, such as wanting to continue working as a team, deciding to stay with the team even though other opportunities have been presented
  2. Spending non-work time in the presence of other team members, either face-to-face or virtually/on social media
Team trust

The five factors that help develop team trust

In terms of what factors predict team trust and increase trustworthiness within a team and risk-taking behaviours it was found that there are five reliable factors:

1) Ability. This relates to a series of sub factors, such as:
a) Perceived competence of other team members and generally across the team
b) Reputation of the individuals and the team itself
c) Level of conscientiousness displayed by the team members as a group
d) Media literacy, which refers to the ability of individuals to use media technologies such as email, chat, et cetera competently and appropriately to access, store and retrieve/share information on a proactive basis
e) Proactivity of the team and individual members
f) Positive humour
g) Friendliness
h) Having a culture of feedback with the aim of improving team performance
i) Positive participation in group or team activities

2) Benevolence, which is based on four sub- factors of:
a) The level of support that is offered across the team, particularly for task completion
b) The level of autonomy given to individuals within the team
c) The level of emotional care engagement across the team
d) The level of loyalty individuals displayed to the team

3) Predictability which is composed of:
a) Keeping commitments
b) Individuals being available to each other for task -related support
c) Consistency in mood and actions/decisions

4) Integrity, which is largely perceived by team members through:
a) Confidentiality and psychological safety experienced within the team
b) The ethical values displayed by all team members and, in particular, team leaders

5) Transparency, the perception of which largely comes from the following four factors:
a) Information transparency and openness, where team members have free access to all of the information and are not kept in the dark about things
b) Clear areas of responsibility and accountability within the team
c) Sharing private information between team members
d) General openness in terms of team members thoughts, feelings and ideas, as well as openness towards ideas

online meeting

The difference between face-to-face and virtual teams in terms of trust building

Whilst both types of teams require exactly the same composition of factors to develop and maintain team trust, the study found that because virtual teams frequently lacked the day-to-day and hour to hour contact and ability to read each other’s expressions and body language on an ongoing basis, team members needed to be more overt and purposeful online with their behaviours than face-to-face teams with physical proximity.

So, whilst there is no difference in the formula for team trust between face-to-face virtual teams, members in virtual teams need to be somewhat more conscious about their behaviours and reactions in virtual teams and need to make an effort to make them more noticeable and deliberate in virtual environments. For example, team members in virtual teams need to clearly verbalise their feelings about things and be very clear and articulate about mistakes and feedback, for instance.


Breuer, C., Hüffmeier, J., Hibben, F., & Hertel, G. (2020). Trust in teams: A taxonomy of perceived trustworthiness factors and risk-taking behaviors in face-to-face and virtual teams. human relations, 73(1), 3-34.

How to Develop Trusting Relationships in Organisations: Interview with Author Melanie Marshall

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David Wilkinson