Power and Trust in Global Virtual Teams

Matrix_Monday(D1) (2)For this week’s Matrix Monday review – our regular Monday review of  available literature – Phil Stockbridge looks at Power and Trust in Global Virtual Teams by Nick Panteli and Robert Tucker.

In this article the authors report on the findings of a study  of 18 global distributed teams, carried out in a Fortune 500 Global IT company.

The interest for readers of the study hinges on how they identify the impact of power on what they describe as “High Trust” or “Low Trust” teams.

In the narrative it appears that the corporate HQ is in the USA, which is always worth considering as the dynamics of power and trust in corporations is also a factor of corporate culture.

The three power factors contributing to “High Trust” global virtual teams, were:

  • knowledge as power
  • power shifting places
  • power differentials minimised.

As you read the article, the first two factors have a significant level of overlap as both state that people with knowledge typically have the power, and therefore as the knowledge required at a particular time in the team moves from one group to another, then the power shifts with it. The third source of power, that of minimising power differentials, resonates with the respect the teams had for subject matter experts, regardless of status.

The four power factors contributing to “Low Trust” global virtual teams were:

  • positional power
  • coercion
  • misunderstandings
  • conflicts of interest.

They refer to the UK/USA locations as sources of power and a lack of clarity over where the power lay.

In “Coercion”, the manager appears to need to be seen to be in control, regardless of their real involvement in the project. The “misunderstandings” relate to unclear goals, and roles where the “conflicts of interest” are raised highlight the classic matrix dilemma of local versus global priorities.

The report concludes with an interesting few paragraphs relating to the role of facilitators in building “High Trust” global virtual teams. The three benefits she identifies are:

  1. Developing a sense of common identity for team members
  2. Developing shared goals
  3. Recognizing the importance of knowledge as a source of power

This report may well help organizations where status and power is gained through knowledge and achievement. I would be very interested to see a similar study conducted in a corporate culture where positional power and status has a far greater impact on the organizational behaviours.

Source: Power and Trust in Global Virtual Teams Niki PanteliRobert J. Tucker, Communications of the ACM – Finding the Fun in Computer Science Education, Volume 52 Issue 12, December 2009. Pages 113-115

Why not….?

  • Find out more about virtual teams
  • Join us on our new ‘Virtual Teams’ Twitter account, @BeingVirtual
  • Share some of your experiences on the power/trust relationship in virtual teams in the comments boxes below: We’d love to hear your stories and challenges.


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