Trust: A Neglected Variable in Team Effectiveness Research

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30 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Trust is frequently espoused as being critical to effective team processes and performance. Yet, few studies have investigated the relationship between trust and team processes, or team effectiveness. There is currently a need to locate propensity to trust (a personality composition variable) and intragroup trust (an emergent state) within mainstream team effectiveness models, not only to provide much-needed theoretical and empirical support for trust's central role in team effectiveness, but also to increase our understanding of how trust influences team effectiveness. This paper argues that trust is a neglected variable within team effectiveness research that requires further empirical investigation.Trust is frequently espoused as being critical to effective team processes and performance (Dirks 1999: Dirks & Ferrin 1998). One reason often cited for trust's importance is that team members who trust each other are better able to examine and improve team processes and hence, to self-manage their own performance (Friedlander 1970; Golembieski & McConkie 1975; Larson & LaFasto 1989). Yet, few studies have investigated the relationship between trust and team effectiveness (Cohen & Bailey 1997; Costa 2003; Dirks 1999; Mayer & Davis 1999; Spreitzer, Taylor 1987; Gladstein 1984: Guzzo & Shea 1992; Hackman 1987: 2002: Shea & Guzzo 1987) or, as a consequence, in empirical investigations of those models. Cohen and Bailey cited no empirical studies of trust in work teams in their review of team effectiveness studies conducted since 1990. The omission of trust from team effectiveness research is even more surprising, given that employees report that lack of trust is one reason they resist the introduction of teams in the first place; and that its absence interferes with the effective functioning of work teams in the second instance (Hyatt & Ruddy 1997; Kirkman, Jones & Shapiro 2000: Larson & LaFasto 1989; LaFasto & Larson 2001). There is therefore a need to locate trust within mainstream team effectiveness models, not only to provide much-needed theoretical and empirical support for its role in team effectiveness (McEvily, Perrone & Zaheer 2003a), but also to understand how and why trust influences effectiveness.Given the neglect of trust within team effectiveness models, it is imperative that a solid theoretical foundation is laid for future research into the relationship between trust and team effectiveness (McEvily, Perrone & Zaheer 2003b). The purpose of this paper therefore, is to advocate the inclusion of trust within future team effectiveness models, to clarify the conceptualisation of trust in work teams, and to propose a model that clearly specifies the role of trust in team effectiveness. The paper is organised as follows. First, given previous definitional confusion (Kramer 1999), conceptualisations of trust in the context of work teams are reviewed and integrated. It is concluded that trust is a multi-dimensional construct that, in teams, is most correctly conceptualised as a personality composition variable or an emergent state that has both cognitive and affective dimensions, rather than a team process variable. In the next section, empirical evidence for a relationship between trust and key determinants of team effectiveness including the design of the work, task interdependence, team composition, team leadership, team processes, and emergent states, are reviewed and synthesized. The review also serves to clarify the positioning of trust within team effectiveness models. In the final section, the role of trust in team effectiveness is critiqued and further elaborated upon, along with guidelines for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-53
JournalJournal of Management & Organization
Volume10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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