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Group Decision and Negotiation (2021) 30:529–551
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10726-020-09722-x
Trust and Group Efficiency in Multinational Virtual Team
Collaboration: A Longitudinal Study
Xusen Cheng1 · Ying Bao2 · Xiaodan Yu2
· Yuanyanhang Shen2
Accepted: 26 December 2020 / Published online: 9 January 2021
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature 2021
Abstract
Trust plays a central role in team collaboration, especially in multinational virtual
teams. However, our understanding of how different types of trust interact to influence group work efficiency in this context is still limited. This study investigates the
development of two types of trust and group efficiency over time in the multinational
virtual team context. Three analysis phases were conducted in this research: phase 1
included a qualitative analysis of an online interview with 120 respondents in multinational virtual team collaborations over 5 weeks, phase 2 comprised a general analysis of the trust and group efficiency development with the same respondents, and
phase 3 included a quantitative analysis of the interaction effects of trust on group
efficiency. The results provide insights into the antecedents of group efficiency and
reveal the trend of trust and group efficiency development over time. The authors
also investigate trust and group efficiency from the deconstructed and decomposed
perspectives. This study contributes to current research by providing evidence on the
development of trust and group efficiency and by investigating the interaction effects
of trust in the multinational virtual team collaboration context.
Keywords Trust development · Openness · Reliability · Group awareness · Group
efficiency · Multinational virtual team collaboration
* Xiaodan Yu
xyu@uibe.edu.cn
Xusen Cheng
xusen.cheng@ruc.edu.cn
Ying Bao
bycoco1@outlook.com
Yuanyanhang Shen
yanhangshen@163.com
1
School of Information, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
2
School of Information Technology and Management, University of International Business
and Economics, Beijing 100029, China
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X. Cheng et al.
1 Introduction
The prevalence of virtual worlds has enabled frequent media-rich interactions
within the context of global collaboration (Srivastava and Chandra 2018). Many
firms, such as IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and E-bay, now conduct seminars, training
programs, and social events via computer-mediated communication platforms (de
Vreede et al. 2013). Knowledge workers often collaborate in teams that are multinational, inter-organizational, and global (Cheng et al. 2016c). In this context,
the collaboration between individuals plays an important role in the effectiveness and efficiency of teams. The increase in multinational virtual team (MNVT)
collaborations helps obviate expensive face-to-face interactions for global teams
(Amichai-Hamburger and McKenna 2006) while incurring associated managerial
issues, which have received significant attention (Charlier et al. 2016). Individuals in an MNVT are usually unfamiliar with each other and geographically distributed. Therefore, notwithstanding the rich communication and collaboration
potential provided by information technology, many businesses fail to achieve
successful collaboration (Gonsalves 2008). This failure can be attributed to the
low level of trust between individuals. Therefore, trust has become an important
issue in this context (Weber 2014).
Many scholars have specified the essential role of trust in virtual teams (Cheng
et al. 2016a; Pinjani and Palvia 2013). Specifically, trust can reduce the cognitive
overload involved during team collaboration, and thus, enhance outcomes (Kolfschoten and Brazier 2013). There are also existing studies on trust antecedents
(Jarvenpaa et al. 1997; Ridings et al. 2002), trust formation in virtual team collaborations (Robert et al. 2009), and outcomes of trust (Jarvenpaa et al. 2004) in
the virtual team context. Moreover, various types of trust have been discussed in
different contexts, such as cognition-and affect-based trust using a two-dimension
model (Kanawattanachai and Yoo 2007; McAllister 1995) and benevolence, ability, and integrity using a three-dimension model (Mayer et al. 1995). Cheng et al.
(2016a) use seven factors to measure trust development over time: willingness
to risk vulnerability, confidence, benevolence, reliability, competence, honesty,
and openness. In the context of MNVT collaboration, team members may demonstrate dissimilarity in beliefs, attitudes, and values due to diverse national cultures
(Han and Beyerlein 2016; Mannix and Neale 2005). Compared with face-to-face
interactions, MNVT members develop trust by providing timely information or
appropriate responses during communication instead of through social interaction
(Henttonen and Blomqvist 2005). The absence of social interactions and trust can
lead to a low level of team performance in MNVTs. As a consequence, attention
to trust development in MNVTs is necessary.
According to the group awareness theory (Gross et al. 2005), individuals’
awareness of other group members also affects their own performance or psychological state. Therefore, we infer that trust at both the individual and group levels
play an important role in group efficiency, especially in the absence of common
experiences and cultural backgrounds in the MNVT context. For example, during team collaboration, individuals may worry about the work engagement or
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Trust and Group Efficiency in Multinational Virtual Team…
531
efficiency of other team members who they are not familiar with, which can ultimately influence their own work efficiency and trust toward the group. Although
several existing studies have investigated trust from both individual and group
perspectives, findings mainly focus on their difference regarding trust development over time between individual and group levels (Cheng et al. 2016c). The
specific deconstructing effects of trust on group efficiency between the individual
and group levels are ignored. Moreover, although existing studies have focused on
the direct impact of various trust antecedents on group performance or efficiency
(De Jong et al. 2016), empirical evidence on the interaction effects of these trust
factors from a decomposing view on multinational group efficiency is limited.
Consequently, there are still research gaps in the following areas: (1) antecedents
of trust development in MNVT collaborations from the deconstructing perspective, (2) the interaction effects of various trust factors on group efficiency from
the decomposing perspective, and (3) the different effects of trust on group efficiency between the individual and group levels.
To address these gaps, this study seeks to extend the existing understanding of
trust and group efficiency in the MNVT collaboration context. To this end, we use
a multi-method research design, integrating the findings from both qualitative and
quantitative analyses. To gain a deeper understanding of the effects of trust, we
adopt a decomposed structure of trust (openness-based trust and reliability-based
trust) and try to further deconstruct those types of trust into two levels (individual
and group). The interaction impact of certain trust factors on group efficiency is also
investigated.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 describes the theoretical background and previous studies on trust in MNVT collaborations. Section 3
explores the three-phase multi-method research design, which provides empirical
evidence to answer the research questions. Section 4 summarizes the research findings, and Sect. 5 concludes with the practical implications, theoretical contributions,
study limitations, and future research opportunities.
2?Literature Review
2.1?Understanding Trust in Team Collaboration
The concept of trust has been frequently investigated in the team collaboration context and was defined as individuals’ willingness to be vulnerable to another party
based on the expectation of others (Mayer et al. 1995; Cheng et al. 2017). Generally speaking, existing studies have investigated trust in team collaboration from the
following perspectives, including trust antecedents (Jarvenpaa et al. 1997; Ridings
et al. 2002), different types of trust (Cheng et al. 2016c), trust formation (Robert
et al. 2009), and several trust consequences (Hsu et al. 2007; Jarvenpaa et al. 2004).
Findings indicate that trust contributes to the positive outcomes of the organizations
(Chiles and McMackin 1996; Zhang et al. 2010). Despite the emphasis on trust in
the team collaboration context, a deeper understanding of the decomposing and
deconstructing of trust requires further investigation and has become a new trend in
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X. Cheng et al.
trust literature (Costa and Anderson 2011; Cheng et al. 2016b). For example, existing research has largely overlooked the different effects of trust between the individual and group levels, thus leading to confounding effects of trust in different levels.
From a theoretical perspective, several representative theories in the social psychology literature have been adopted in the trust context, including the theory of
planned behavior (Kim and Kankanhalli 2009), attribution theory (Johnson and
Grayson 2005), and social exchange theory (Young-Ybarra and Wiersema 1999).
These theories provide evidence on the tenets that the sources of trust exist in the
interaction and positive attribution to other partners in organization. Considering the
effects of trust in the virtual team collaboration context, team interaction is frequent
and the deconstructed notion of trust at the individual and group levels needs further
development.
Theoretical foundation in the collaboration context can also provide the necessity
for the deconstructing of trust. Group awareness is one of the most widely investigated theories in computer-supported cooperative work (Dourish and Bellotti
1992) and collaborative learning (Leinonen and JäRVELä 2006). Following exiting
research (Bodemer and Dehler 2011; Gross et al. 2005), group awareness is the state
of being informed about specific aspects of other group members, including what
other members are doing, how others feel about a member, and members’ interests.
Figure 1 presents a conceptual relationship between group awareness and collaboration effectiveness in the context of computer-supported collaborative learning, as
proposed by Janssen and Bodemer (2013, p. 52). As depicted in Fig. 1, cognitive
group awareness and social group awareness can be improved via other team members’ knowledge, information, and opinions, and by providing information about
individuals’ participation in a collaboration or the perceived quality of a discussion, respectively. According to Jermann and Dillenbourg (2008), team members
can achieve effective collaboration not only in the content space (such as increased
participation in discussions) but also in the relational space (such as increased symmetry in contributions) by improving group awareness.
Compared with face-to-face communication, group members receive limited
context and environmental cues in a computer-mediated collaborative environment
(Kiesler et al. 1984). The lack of context cues and co-location can limit the sharing
of expectations, similarities, and other important information (Srivastava and Chandra 2018). Therefore, we investigate the trust antecedents at both the individual and
group levels from a deconstructed perspective in this study. Trust at the individual
Cognitive group awareness
Knowledge of partners knowledge,
information, understanding, and opinions
Social group awareness
Participation in content and relational
space, perceptions of collaboration, and
quality of group discussion
Content space
Relational space
Individual achievement and
group performance
Fig. 1??Conceptual framework for group awareness (Janssen and Bodemer 2013)
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Effectiveness of
collaboration
Trust and Group Efficiency in Multinational Virtual Team…
533
level depicts the trust in one’s own intentions and behaviors. Trust at the group level
depends on the positive view of others’ intentions and behaviors, which represents
the individuals’ awareness of other group members. To investigate the antecedents
of trust development in the MNVT context, we propose the first research question:
Research question 1 (RQ1) What are the antecedents of trust development in
MNVT collaborations from the deconstructed perspective?
2.2?Trust Development in Multinational Virtual Team Collaboration
A virtual team can be defined as “a group of people who interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose and work across space, time, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technologies’’ (Lipnack and Stamps 1997; Maznevski and Chudoba 2000, p. 473). This has
become an established work design in many companies (Breuer et al. 2016). Studies
have identified several types of team collaboration, including face-to-face, global/
multinational, semi-virtual/hybrid, and virtual (Cheng et al. 2016b). With the globalization of the economy and emergence of collaborative technologies, multinational teams and organizations have increased and play important roles in business
(Han and Beyerlein 2016).
The MNVT is a new organizational form in which trust is impeded due to both
the virtual and global contexts. Under these circumstances, typical factors contributing to team success, such as a close physical location, common experiences, and
shared cultural backgrounds, are absent. Therefore, trust becomes a key element of
team success in this context (Han and Beyerlein 2016). Low levels of trust in the
team can lead to low commitment, lack of information sharing, and the intention
to avoid interactions with team members (Kanawattanachai and Yoo 2007). These
behaviors can undermine the overall efficiency of the team. According to previous
related literature, we define trust as an individual’s or group’s willingness to be vulnerable to the behavior of another individual or group (Mayer et al. 1995). Trust is
a critical factor in any kind of team collaboration; however, it plays a pivotal role
in virtual team collaboration by weakening the impact of psychological distance
caused by geographical distance (Snow et al. 1996).
Previous studies have examined the antecedents of trust in MNVTs from several perspectives. The importance of trust has also been identified by many scholars (Breuer et al. 2016; Cheng et al. 2016a, b, c; Ford et al. 2017). Jarvenpaa et al.
(1997) investigate three antecedents of trust in MNVTs: ability, benevolence, and
integrity. There is also evidence that trust within a team can affect the attitudes and
behaviors of individuals, thereby affecting task performance (Jarvenpaa et al. 2004;
Kanawattanachai and Yoo 2007; Wildman et al. 2012). In MNVTs, trust develops
with the dynamic relationships of the team members. For example, Wilson et al.
(2006) provide evidence on the difference in trust development between computermediated and face-to-face teams. In more recent work, trust is regarded as a dynamic
process in long-term interactions (Cheng et al. 2016a). Studies have also been conducted on the management of dynamic trust in projects (Rose and Schlichter 2013).
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X. Cheng et al.
To investigate trust development over time in MNVTs, we propose the second
research question:
Research question 2a (RQ2a) How does trust develop over time in the context of
MNVT collaborations at the individual level?
Research question 2b (RQ2b) How does trust develop over time in the context of
MNVT collaborations at the group level?
2.3?The Interaction Between Reliability?Based Trust and Openness?Based Trust
In recent decades, numerous studies on different types of trust, including dispositional, interpersonal, situational, and structural trust (Bjørn and Ngwenyama 2009;
Cheng and Macaulay 2014; McKnight and Chervany 1996; Rotter 1980), have
emerged. According to Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (1999), there are five factors of
trust: benevolence, reliability, competence, honesty, and openness. Among the five
factors, benevolence, competence, and honesty can be categorized as dispositional
trust, which is mainly based on the trustees’ personality and is specific to the individual (Cheng et al. 2016a). Reliability is a combination of confidence and benevolence in the group (Wilson et al. 2006). Openness is the degree to which individuals
are willing to share information and are involved in open communication with other
group members (Ibrahim and Ribbers 2009).
Although several studies have been conducted on the impact of these factors on
trust and team performance (Cheng et al. 2016c, b; Eisenberg et al. 2019; Jarvenpaa et al. 1997, 2004), the interaction effects of these factors are largely ignored. In
the context of MNVTs, team members’ relationship development depends largely
on effective communication and interactions between group members. Group awareness enables group members to identify the person-related cues and behaviors of
collaboration partners during interactions (Bodemer and Dehler 2011). According
to the group awareness theory (Gross et al. 2005), individuals’ awareness of the surroundings is essential in teamwork, especially in MNVT collaborations. Sometimes,
the benefits of being aware of other group members may surpass the benefits of
face-to-face interactions (Bodemer and Dehler 2011). Moreover, trust development
in MNVTs mainly depends on team members’ timely responses and information
sharing, such that a high level of communication openness can impact individuals’
perceptions and awareness of the whole group. Therefore, we focused on openness
and reliability as the two main factors of trust and refer to these types as reliabilityand openness-based trust from a decomposing perspective in this study.
Reliability-based trust refers to the degree to which individuals can count on other
group members to meet their needs (Hoy and Tschannen-Moran 1999). Reliability
is based on the sense of benevolence and predictability of others’ behavior (Cheng
et al. 2016c). The concept of reliability is also related to the confidence that individuals will perform predictably and take the interests of other group members into consideration (Kanawattanachai and Yoo 2007; Mishra 2012). In the context of MNVTs,
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Trust and Group Efficiency in Multinational Virtual Team…
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reliability-based trust is essential, and a high level of reliability can lead to individuals’
positive perceptions of the collaboration outcomes.
As mentioned, openness-based trust is based on the degree to which individuals can share information and make communications freely in a group. This kind of
trust derives from the communication openness between group members (Cheng et al.
2016c). Instead of being conservative regarding opinions, openness means that individuals are curious, creative, original, and imaginative while performing teamwork (Godar
2003). According to studies on computer-mediated communication (Lowry et al. 2006,
2009), in an open collaboration environment, individuals are more likely to explore the
group’s perceptions of their own and others’ ideas.
2.4?Trust and Group Efficiency
Group efficiency has been identified as one of the most important dependent variables
of trust in existing studies (De Jong et al. 2016; Dirks 1999), and their relationship has
been discussed from several angles (Cogliser et al. 2012). For example, trust can reduce
transaction costs (Chiles and McMackin 1996), promote open and efficient information sharing (Zhang et al. 2010), and increase individual and group confidence in the
relationship, as well as group efficiency. Trust, however, has been mainly modeled
as one of many predictors of group efficiency (De Jong et al. 2016). In this study, we
aim to provide a more holistic understanding of the effects of trust on group efficiency.
Although existing studies have identified the effects of trust in virtual team collaborations, they merely investigate the independent effects of various types of trust. Few
studies provide quantitative evidence on the interaction effects of different trust influencing factors (Cheng et al. 2017). Given the limited research on this topic, we investigate the types of trust and their interaction effects on group efficiency in MNVTs to
inform this study.
Additionally, previous studies only focus on trust factors at the individual level.
In the virtual team collaboration context, however, trust factors at the group level are
essential. According to the group awareness theory, the awareness of other group members’ interactions with the group and the environment plays an important role in team
collaboration, especially in virtual teams. In other words, individuals’ perceived trust of
the group could be as important as their trust at the individual level on the group’s efficiency. Therefore, instead of only focusing on trust at the individual level, we also take
the impact of trust at the group level on group efficiency into consideration.
Based on these research gaps, we propose the third research question:
Research question 3 (RQ3) How do different antecedents of trust at the individual
and group levels influence group efficiency in the context of MNVT collaborations?
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X. Cheng et al.
3?Multi?Method Design
To explore the trust development and interaction of two trust factors in MNVT collaborations, we adopted a multi-method research design, which uses both qualitative
and quantitative methods (Tashakkori et al. 1998). The multi-method design provides stronger evidence than a single method. It also can produce divergent or complementary views (Venkatesh et al. 2016). Given the aim to discover the antecedents
of trust development and investigate the effects of trust at different levels on group
efficiency, the multi-method research design was adopted (Wunderlich et al. 2019).
To answer the research questions, we conducted a longitudinal survey study with
139 undergraduate students in China. An online interview was also conducted after
each week’s collaboration to measure the perceived antecedents of trust development. We selected students in two classes in different areas of China to ensure virtual team collaboration. The demographic information of the samples is presented in
Table 1. The sample consists of 46.8% males and 53.2% females. Of the participants,
46.8% are between 18 and 20 years and 53.2% are between 21 and 23 years, with an
average age of 21. The students hail from China, Indonesia, France, Kazakhstan,
Russia, Malawi, Sweden, Uzbekistan, Korea, Dominica, Philippines, North Korea,
Mongolia, and Saudi. More than 60% are from Asian countries, and approximately
30% are from Europe. These students were divided randomly into virtual team
groups of 4–5 students, which yielded 34 MNVTs. During 5 weeks in the semester,
the students were assigned group work to perform a business case analysis and compose a new business plan for the case company. During the study, the students were
allowed to use software to collaborate, such as WeChat.
We conducted the data analysis in three phases. Phase 1 consisted of a qualitative analysis of online interviews with the respondents, which provided a general
understanding of the antecedents of trust development in the 5-week team collaboration and helped answer the first research question (RQ1). After two researchers
performed a coding process, several important constructs were derived from these
data. Phase 2 included a general analysis of the trust development and work efficiency development during the team collaboration, which was conducted to answer
the second research question (RQ2). Phase 3 comprised a quantitative analysis of
Table 1??Demographics of
participants (N = 139)
Items
Category
Frequency
(N = 139)
%
Gender
Males
65
46.8
Females
74
53.2
18–20
65
46.8
21–23
74
53.2
Asia
86
61.9
Europe
42
30.2
North America
1
0.7
South America
1
0.7
Africa
1
0.7
Age
Continent
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Trust and Group Efficiency in Multinational Virtual Team…
537
the causal relationships between trust and group efficiency, providing evidence to
answer research question 3 (RQ3).
3.1?Phase 1: Qualitative Analysis
Phase 1 of the multi-method design sought to answer RQ1 (What are the antecedents of trust development in MNVT collaborations from the deconstructed perspective?). To answer this research question, we conducted a qualitative study to specify
the antecedents of trust development over time. Specifically, we asked several questions to the participants, who were directed to carefully reflect on their perceptions
of trust with the group and the factors of trust development during the collaboration
process. Following Hua et al. (2019), we then conducted a content analysis of the
qualitative data. As the trust level fluctuates over the 5 weeks, we derive both negative and positive antecedents of trust based on the interview data.
Table 2 presents the key antecedents of trust development derived from the qualitative data. As mentioned, two members of our research team conducted a coding
analysis following Miles and Huberman (1994). As shown in Table 2, the data analysis process yielded four frequently mentioned antecedents of trust development,
involving the deconstructing notion of trust: reliability at the individual level, reliability at the group level, openness at the individual level, and openness at the group
level. As previously mentioned, reliability-based trust at the individual level is based
on an individual’s sense of confidence that he/she will perform predictably to meet
the group’s needs (Hoy and Tschannen-Moran 1999). Similarly, according to Cheng
et al. (2016a), reliability-based trust at the group level refers to an individual’s belief
that other individuals in the group will perform predictably to meet the group’s
needs. Openness-based trust at the individual level refers to an individual’s degree
of openness to other group members, and at the group level, it is based on an individual’s belief that other individuals in the group share information freely and are
open, creative, and imaginative while performing teamwork (Godar 2003).
According to the participants’ answers, we can infer that individuals’ perceived
openness and reliability at both the individual and group levels are related to the
trust development over the 5 weeks. However, as depicted in Table 2, both reliability
and openness are more frequently mentioned at the group level than at the individual
level. This finding can be attributed to the group awareness theory, which asserts
that individuals’ awareness of other group members’ interactions plays an essential
role in the group. In the hybrid virtual team collaboration context, we can infer that
individuals’ perceived openness and reliability of the group are more important than
the perceptions of themselves. Consequently, we hypothesized that the interaction
effect of trust antecedents at the group level on work efficiency is more prominent
than that at the individual level.
3.2?Phase 2: General Analysis of the Development of Trust and Group Efficiency
To answer the second research question (RQ2a and RQ2b) (How does trust develop
over time in the context of MNVT collaborations at the individual and group
13
Antecedents of trust development
Definition
13
9. “I’m acting as the leader by sharing my ideas, giving
members suggestions, and helping them understand what
we should put in each part of the plan.”
10. “I asked my team’s opinion about what we were doing
and for some information to be researched, and I received
nothing from one of them.”
11. “I keep the group members updated about my progress,
and I think they trust that when I say I’m going do something, I do it.”
4. “I lost my computer so I couldn’t work much this week,
but members of my team took initiative and they worked
hard. So, my trust has changed because now I know they
care about this work.”
5. “Some people don’t care about the project and are not
involved at all. It is difficult to trust people that don’t do
anything.”
6. “Everyone’s efficiency is improving, and the work can be
done well without others saying anything.”
7. “Everyone is taking responsibility.”
8. “The trust in the team changed because I gave them tasks
and deadlines, and they didn’t respect them.”
Individuals’ belief that other individuals in the group will
perform predictably to meet the group’s needs (Cheng et al.
2016c)
Individual’s degree of openness to other group members
(Godar 2003)
Reliability-based trust at the group level
Openness-based trust at the individual level
1. “I think members trust me because I already proved that I Reliability-based trust at the individual level An individuals’ sense of confidence that he/she will perform
predictably to meet the group’s needs (Hoy and Tschannendid what I said.”
Moran 1999)
2. “I already did almost one-third of the

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