Trust development in virtual teams: an investigation of leader-member sales team dyads

Hughes, Colin (2021). Trust development in virtual teams: an investigation of leader-member sales team dyads. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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In recent decades trust has become a major field within management and organisational studies. Researchers have focused on a range or inter- and intra-organisational trust relationships, with the manager-employee dyad identified as a particularly important trust relationship. However, much of the extant research is unidirectional, concerned with employees’ trust in managers rather than seeking both parties’ perspectives. Furthermore, research has been largely focused within traditional co-located contexts, despite the continued growth of Virtual Teams (VTs).

Guided by a critical realist philosophy, this thesis focuses on the underlying generative mechanisms which influence leader-member trust in virtual sales teams. Utilising a case study strategy, research was conducted within three global technology companies. Data were collected through 33 in-depth interviews, conducted across twenty dyads and eleven teams.

Thematic analysis of the data revealed four key themes and informed the development of a new framework for VT leader-member trust: Firstly, from a behavioural perspective, trusted virtual leaders display many of the characteristics of transformational leaders, being highly ‘member centric’ in their leadership style and demonstrating trust through autonomy, respect and openness. Trusted members demonstrate both reliability and openness. Leaders strongly believe that virtual leadership is a unique form of leadership and that a greater effort is required, especially when it comes to remote members of hybrid teams.

Secondly, a range of dyadic mechanisms influence VT leader-member trust. High trust relationships are characterized by mutual benevolence, and openness, felt trust, connection, alignment of expectations and mutual reliability. Communication plays an important role and dyad members must go beyond the ‘agenda-focused’ nature of virtual communications in order to build connection and trust. Virtual leaders need to be able to utilise a variety of communication tools to drive clarity and to make themselves available to support members, creating a sense of perceived proximity, while members must also be proficient communicators to ensure that their performance and impact is visible. Face to face communication is extremely beneficial and can have a transformational impact on relationships.

Thirdly, extra-dyadic mechanisms such as organisational supports, team structures and third parties influence trust levels in variety of ways; and fourthly, personal mechanisms such as trusting disposition, experience and values can have both a positive and negative impact on leader-member trust.

In presenting a new framework for VT leader-member trust, informed by field research with both VT leaders and members, this research makes a significant contribution to the trust and VT literatures and provides guidance to organisational actors seeking to build trust in virtual dyads. Moreover, this research reveals that while trust building in virtual environments requires a more conscious effort, trust is not only possible in virtual leader-member dyads, it can be stronger than in co-located relationships.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Birmingham Business School
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce


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