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How teams work
How teams work

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5.3 Trust in teams

Trust between team members is an important ingredient for effective and efficient team working. But what is trust? According to Gignac (2005), trust is:

… a willingness to increase your vulnerability to another person whose behaviour you cannot control, in a situation in which your potential benefit is much less than your potential loss if the other person abuses your vulnerability.

Gignac (2005, p. 62)

Put another way, trust can exist when the members of the team are working in good faith, honouring their explicit and implicit commitments honestly, without taking advantage of other members of the team.

The benefits to a team if its members trust each other have been put succinctly by Fleming (2006), who claimed that trust was vital for any team to be successful. If team members trust each other, this can help to develop cooperation and collaboration between team members through the sharing of knowledge and experience. Trust between team members can also encourage them to be open and honest with each other. In the team context, it can promote new ideas and risk taking.

Conversely, mistrust within the team is burdensome because it leads to increased formality of procedures in order to reduce team members’ vulnerability to each other. If there is a lack of trust within the team, effort can be duplicated because team members do not trust each other to deliver on their promises. This can lead to increased checking up on members of the team and increases in their workload at the expense of the overall productivity of the team. Team members’ actions and interactions within the team can also become diverted into unproductive political activity, further lowering productivity within the team. Finally, negotiations within the team and with the client can become protracted. All in all, teams that don’t trust each other are uncomfortable environments in which to work.

Building trust in virtual teams is not easy, and maintaining trust and group cohesion can also be difficult if it is done purely at a distance.