This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Trust and virtual teams

Now that AOK is open to all comers, I encourage people to check out their STAR series archives for some very interesting discussions. UPDATE July 2005: AOK now has an annual membership requirement.

In the recent discussion introduction, Nancy Dixon* talks about trust, particularly as associated with virtual teams.
AOK: Preparing for Conversations with Nancy Dixon

I am often asked if a peer assist could be held by telephone conference call or by videoconference. My answer is never very welcome, in part, because it is not what the questioner wanted to hear and, in part, because the answer is complex. There are three considerations. First, trust is formed through face-to-face encounters. [snip] A second consideration is the type of content being requested. Explicit knowledge travels well virtually, tacit knowledge does not. [snip] A third consideration is the amount of learning the originating team gains from the exchange.
[This quote is at the end of the section titled 'Demand B - Peer Assist - How can we "mine" what others have learned?']

This is a familiar refrain on the concerns of virtual work with others. What struck me as I read this, however, is that it misses the arguments made about the value of the internet, email and blogging in regards to building community. In particular, David Weinberger and others talk about the net creating relationships all over the world that would never exist otherwise. Certainly, these tools all expand our horizons and put us into contact with more people. And participating in the larger world via blogging and webboards and mailing lists increases our trustability in that context.

In most cases telephone and email conversations work to build trust, but there can be circumstances where trust breaks down due to misunderstandings or lack of response (messages that go unanswered). Dixon claims that the only way to rebuild that trust is to return to f2f meetings. I'm not convinced. Trust builds as these types of people learn from one another. We may have to be more careful in virtual environments, but it can happen.

As Dixon asked during the discussion, do you have any examples to share?

* Nancy Dixon is the author of Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know, and she is working on another book that is exerpted in the AOK entry above.

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