GPM First
Chapter 4 of Trust in Virtual Teams (978-1-4094-5361-1) by Thomas P. Wise

Building Cognitive Based Trust


People are thinking beings. We never stop using our mind to interpret the world around us. We take in information about our surroundings and filter out those things we find irrelevant, sort and categorize what we find important, and make decisions as we go through our day. When we find that gaps exist we fill in those gaps with whatever information we can find. In many cases, in the absence of direct, relevant, and sensible information, we fill in the gaps with our imagination and our fears. The point is cognitive trust is all about making choices, and information gaps may open us to misinterpretation, misinformation, or rumor.

Rumor mills never stop. When I worked in the electric power production industry we used the rumor mill to our advantage at every opportunity. Rumors were created to keep ourselves entertained. One of the ways we had the most fun was to start a rumor just to see how long it would take to get back to us. It never took long for a rumor to make the full cycle and return in the form of a wild eyed, panic stricken co-worker winding a drama filled path through the sea of cubicles to frantically exclaim the latest rumor scoop. Sometimes if we really needed something to change we would start a rumor, and a few days later a manager would come by with a great idea. Curiously, the new idea would often be suspiciously close to the latest rumor we released into the crowd.

Gaps in the information flow can be particularly difficult for remote team members to handle. The gaps can easily be interpreted in many ways by team members such as disinterest, lack of activity, lack of belonging, or as a lack in desire to share information with remote members. A decision to form offshore or virtual team relationships should include a willingness to share information and needed corporate knowledge.

Often, when focused on the work setting, and perhaps more prevalent in some cultural groups, in order to make a decision to trust someone, information needs to be available. Curry and Fisher noted in a 2012 study that familiarity can be a necessary precondition when deciding to trust, or mistrust, another person, and perhaps can be even more important than the warrant of another person regarding trustworthiness. The old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, to some extent, may have some truth to it. As we become more familiar with people with whom we work, we become familiar with their ways. These interactions and experiences build an expectation for future behaviors allowing team members to make up their mind whether or not to trust another team member.

Team members working in the virtual model often find it difficult to become familiar with their team to such a degree that the relationship has moved beyond the introductory and discovery point, and into a trusted relationship. It can be difficult to discover information about people working in the same office, and almost impossible to become familiar with everyone on a project. I was recently embarrassed as I began a new teaching assignment. Each time I begin a new semester the class, of course, begins with the introductions of myself with the new classmates. As I have explained, discovering information leads us to trust one another, and the classroom environment is no different. I introduced myself to the class, talking about my past jobs and work experiences, education, and my current role and job location. As the opportunity moved from learner to learner, each in turn introduced their roles, jobs, and education. Finally, one person in the class, with a big smile, exclaimed to the class how she too worked in the same office as myself. We had never met, yet worked only desks from each other every day.

She always entered, she said, from the back door, and had never walked to the front entrance of the building. Those of us, and yes that really is most of us, working in a virtual model often have to rely on a decision to trust our team mates because we lack the personal interactions that allow relationships to grow. We have to decide to trust others based on information we can find. This information is often found in one of three main categories called unit grouping, reputation, and stereotyping (Sarker et al., 2003).

Unit Grouping—Have an Information Plan

Unit grouping is the process involved when team members come together to accomplish common goals. They form interdependencies and a sense of membership within the group, or otherwise known as that home feeling, and a sense of safety in the group with a shared identity. Feeling connected, as the old saying goes, may be very closely related to the effectiveness of the communication. So, how is communication measured for effectiveness? Is the purpose clear, concise, and relevant to the reader? These are the necessary elements to the first part of the question. The next part is the more difficult question. Is it consistently delivered? If we get this part right we can reduce the risky behaviors an employee sometimes follows when information flow is filled with gaps. We can also increase their sense of belonging.

Information, even delivering a bad or unwanted message, is important to developing trust. Sometimes knowing that someone cannot be trusted develops trust. We simply learn that we can trust someone or something to not be trustworthy, such as knowing that a group or person will always be late, or deliver poor quality, creates trust through the consistent delivery of a bad message.

As managers we need to create an information plan. What do we want to get done, and what do we want to affect, are the key questions to ask when building this plan. The information plan needs to have an expected outcome to be effective in sending a message. This is the clear and concise part of the message. Remember the old adage, what gets measured, gets done? Getting work done, regardless of the need for trust, is every manager’s job, so we should then be focused primarily in the area of getting work done.

The next thing to remember when developing your information plan is the part about team make up, or relevancy. Project teams, or groups of employees, are not a homogeneous group. They come from different corporate divisions, different divisional departments, and in the case of the modern project swarming effect, often different companies with many divisions and departments, and in many different geographic regions and countries. This requires a plan that is specific to the project or goal.

Let me tell another quick story, and then we can get to the point. The department in which I work spent over a year planning just such a plan, and creating a wonderful management dashboard, to relay every type of information a project team member could possibly want to gather. It is great! Every piece of data is available to anyone that cares to look. Personnel hours on every project are collected and displayed down to the individual participant’s time commitment. Defect detection rates, defects that are missed and passed to the customer, and so on, and so on, and so on, and then comes the question of, “So what?”

Dashboarding Builds Unity

In keeping with the new trend, dashboards are required, and comprehensive, however, when the question of relevancy and conciseness are placed in the equation, the so-what question, the dashboard can tend to fail. In order to get to the relevant part, the user must click through a layer of imbedded drop down lists. OK, so not bad right? Unfortunately the drop down lists are almost always non-descriptive names and numbers designed to guide the knowledgeable seeker, or other knowledgeable person in database design, and not the remote user who is simply trying to stay connected. After over a year of development, very few people have ever cared to use the new dashboard, and those who do get misinformation because they are not sure what the information is trying to tell them. To avoid this problem we need a plan. Create a plan based on what the organization wants to affect, and build from that point out.

The plan should be layered. How do interested parties find information about the business, and about the project, and about the people? Remember that information discovery is the key to cognitive based trust. Using a drill down method for discovery provides some context to each of the different layers. Begin with taking a good long look at the corporate or division level goals. In general most of the goals will fall into four categories of Quality, Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Productivity (Arney, 2011). A few of you may see these translated a little differently, but for the most part these are the primary goals with which we all deal. These are so common that anyone reading may immediately feel like I stole this from you. Maybe! All of us have begun at this point in one form or another. See Figure 4.1.

Now, once again, let’s back up a little to talk about why we are starting this conversation at such a high level. Cognitive based trust begins with the ability to discover information. The discovery is important at both an individual level and at the group level. Individuals need the ability to discover information about each other’s personality, likes, dislikes, family, and friends, however, if we followed many of the suggestions in the last chapter, we should be doing pretty well in this area. At the same time individuals need to be able to discover information about groups as well.

Groups such as work groups and project teams must also be discoverable. It is important because it is at this level that organizations are best at identifying, categorizing, and reporting project and department level data. To be successful we need to do things in a way that make sense for a department or company, and can be made sustainable and repeatable. Keeping the data collection at this level will allow all of us to make these changes and implement them successfully.


Figure 4.1 Example communication strategy chart forms the communication strategy


Additionally, reports at this level allow individuals to seek out and discover information about dependent projects without needing to know about all of the individuals involved. Team members can now discover information about a project with which their work lives intertwine, and build the ability for cognitive based trust, based on the reporting. This person can take the information and begin to drill down, seek out consistencies or risks, and build enough information on which to make a decision to trust. This type of information is important to teams that have dependencies, but little connection. Many times, as a result of divisional silos, dependent projects will never connect beyond the high level project management office (PMO). We can all relate at least to one catastrophe that may have been avoided if we all had a functional reporting system.

I’ll give my own quick catastrophe example, and then we can drill down to the next level. I had just begun a new role as quality manager and was attending one of my first project meetings. The project, and this is the perfect moniker for every oversized project, was given the name the perfect storm. The project started around the time of the movie release, and it truly was perfect. The name, real or not, is perfect for this example, and I would bet there were a lot of projects named the same around the time of the movie release.

This project involved every division and department in the organization. Many different new products were bundled together, new customer web interface, new application programming interface (API), new back office release, and network upgrades to most systems. Don’t worry about what all this means, but just sit back and imagine all of the silos that come together in this one meeting, each with an inherent agenda to appear as if they are on top of their piece, and with a goal to come out of the meeting without taking any heat. This project moved sweetly along at the PMO group’s desired pace. Every meeting flowed through the agenda like a parade of newly minted soldiers smartly stepping across the parade ground in unison, never faltering to regain synchronized walks, and no one glancing to the right or left. We were on pace to set a great record, and doing great things.

Friday afternoon comes on the release weekend and we all come together for one final great moment, and we begin to walk through the final checklist. As we hit a simple web interface the PMO representative calls out on the checklist the network administrator responsible for deploying the code. Quickly the network admin notes in passing with a quiet voice the words that sounded something like, “Hey, you guys did get the new Linux server right?” Really? Friday at 5:00pm on the weekend of the release we ask an offhand question like that? Shouldn’t there be a milestone that says purchased hardware, or set up hardware, or provision hardware, or something along those lines? Would we expect that a project wiki, or spreadsheet, or milestone based Gantt chart would be discovered by an interested network admin?

Teams and individuals need the ability to drill down into projects and see a level of consistency, or inconsistency, in order to create for ourselves an expectation for the future of shared engagements. Being able to discover information, or that information is missing, is a key to building cognitive based trust, because cognitive based trust is a decision we make to prescribe trust to an individual, group, department, or company. Maybe the missing server would not have been caught in the dashboard reporting, but at least a connection would have been made regarding the dependent project.

So now we can get back to the discussion about building effective communications and continue with building the plan. As you can now see, I am trying to illustrate a communications plan based around metrics reporting. Communications need to take on many different channels. Remember our communication model early in the discussion about opening up communications? I put it on this page again so that we can talk about channels before we finally get back to building the cognitive based trust communication plan.

Figure 4.2 Framework of effective communication


It seems that most research into communication channels took place prior to the discovery of the World Wide Web, email, and texting. Unless of course the research is into the question whether we are more likely to crash our vehicle while texting than while watching where we are going. It is, however, a very good metaphor for project communications. If we are not watching where the project is going, we will crash. This goes for our ability to trust those with whom we are working as well.

We need to wrap all available means around our communication strategy, and this includes making all of our information available to discovery. So as we continue to build out the strategy keep in mind where you will want to use wikis and blogs, and web based data driven “dashboards” capable of supporting searches. And then, finally, making sure that we are making available both good and bad messages. We as managers must always remember that trust requires that both the good and the bad are discoverable, and consistently available for it is the consistency, even with a bad message, that builds the ability to prescribe trust.

Figure 4.3 Communications need to utilize all available channels


So now back to the build-out of our strategy. Following the standard goals dissemination process, take it to the next level. We use the goals definition process to drive our communications. What do these topics mean to your department, and your projects? It is not just individuals that work remote from the team, but rather entire groups, departments, divisions, and companies.

The next step in building out the strategy has to do with identifying those activities in your organization that may have an impact on the overall goals (see Figure 4.4). This may be as simple as listing the activities that are currently taking place, or brainstorming the activities that will take place later in the year. Always start with a place holder for the tactical level goals making sure they meet the requirement of being Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Time (SMART) boxed. Keeping this principle in mind keeps people involved and motivated to achieving the goals that are set.

Tracks are those activities that may be following a series of events designed to achieve a specific outcome. This may be a series of projects toward building a knowledge management system that provides for the capture and categorization of department experiences designed to mentor new employees, guide problem solving work, or share project based knowledge with remote employees. This process is great for providing a type of peer training or mentoring across the great divide that can develop when team members are working in the virtual environment.

Figure 4.4 Determining what activities may impact the communication strategy


The people questions can be fairly easy if we followed some of the suggestions in the personality based trust sections. Now we simply need to tie some of that information into the search capability of a dashboard or project measures and metrics, or better yet, a knowledge repository. Helping people remain concise and relevant in their information discovery is very important, and tying this back to the project will help in keeping with the targeted information flow.

Knowledge Management Can Enhance Belonging

A knowledge repository pulls together significant pieces of an organization’s experience, and creates a collective memory that may serve to enhance the sense of belonging. It is like repeating company folklore at corporate functions, and becomes a part of the way people view themselves. Using the process to facilitate peer to peer training-like opportunities may facilitate what Dossett & Hulvershorn (1983) and Liu & Batt (2010) describe as a bonding opportunity when peers seek out ways in which they mentor and share with newer employees.

Figure 4.5 Building a knowledge repository


The repository becomes a place where experienced and knowledgeable employees reach out to share their wealth of knowledge with new employees, or up and coming new leaders in the organization. As the repository is built, using the experienced employees to vet and organize the knowledge as subject matter experts (SME) allows for refinement of the knowledge transfer process, and aids in identification of those pieces of information that may relate to greater categories providing detailed captures of critical corporate assets. Assets that otherwise may be lost in the day to day activities, or that simply don’t transfer to remote team members.

Figure 4.6 Using Subject Matter Experts to refine the knowledge repository



A knowledge repository then becomes a primary feeder of corporate knowledge into the communication stream as a means of information discovery (see Figure 4.7). Employees and team mates can mine the repository for “corporate lore,” as it may be called, regarding the past experiences and knowledge of team mates and the corporate giants that have come before them in paving the way to the words “how we do things around here” (see Figure 4.8).

Now it is time to keep building out our model. Tracking the special initiatives that the organization is undertaking, special projects, and improvement efforts, as they maintain a line of sight to the goals helps in communicating the efforts of the organization. Tie together the special efforts with the SMART goals, tracks, and initiatives into a common framework, or repository, and measure their ability to affect the goals.

As we noted in the beginning, cognitive based trust builds trust in the three categories of unit grouping, reputation, and stereotyping. The unit grouping piece is based on the process in which team members work to attain common goals. We have talked at some length regarding the tracking of goals. This is to ensure we build the ability to identify those common goals in such a way that those working apart from the main group, which by the way may be most of the team, are able to watch and track the progress toward those goals.

Figure 4.7 Using the knowledge repository to build trust


Of course, in most cases, team goals are very tactical, however knowing how they relate to strategic goals, and how they affect the overall team can have a great impact on team identity. When the tracking is drilled down to the next level, it allows team members to see their direct line of sight to the overall team, and in many cases, how their work directly affects the bottom line, organizational goals, and bonus attainment.

At this point in the reporting process we have now developed a full picture that can guide, and ease, the ability to discover relevant information for all team members. The information discovery process is guided and can easily be navigated throughout the entire organization allowing for team members, when questions arise, to develop an effective picture of their team, individual members, and organizational peers. This is often a very real problem for most organizations (see Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.8 Bringing together special efforts in common reporting repository


Figure 4.9 Tying in metrics with the common reporting repository


I know recently a problem arose at work with one of my peers from another organization. This individual wrote a rather scathing remark to my boss about a project with which my group was assisting my peer. I decided before I talked with this person that I wanted to figure out exactly who this was, and what their role was, but there was no information available beyond his name and a note of to whom he reported. I had no idea what this person’s responsibility was, what his goals are, or why he might be so agitated, and no way to prepare to talk with him on a level that would establish a degree of trust before we began the conversation. If we had available to us a combination of the organizational structure, a personalized wiki page, or perhaps the corporately developed social networking site with a bit of personal information, and the project level goals tracking, we would have been very well prepared to figure out the problem and come together with this person in a problem solving mode.

Instead the problem was approached from a perspective of mistrust and speculation, and the phone call went immediately from agitated to confrontational. It took most of the hour long call to move from confrontation to information discovery, and then problem solving. This is a problem that can be avoided with the proper information discovery structure we built here.


We always want to track those things that affect how other groups or people view us. This is an element we mentioned earlier about reputation. Reputation is something that must be continually maintained. A reputation is built upon the word of mouth processes of sharing the information from past experiences of many people, as well as those things we say, and the work we produce, on a daily basis (Fombrun, 1996; Sarker et al., 2003). We all like to work for companies that are regarded as the better companies, and we like to hire the better consultants when we need expert help, and so do we like to work with the better regarded peers (Fombrun, 1996). Reputation increases and supports the decision to trust.

As Fombrun (1996) noted, any question regarding the reputation of those working in knowledge based industries or activities can be a great concern. Our reputation is built around a consistent work product quality and delivery, and the expectations for future engagements at a given quality. Reputation is built upon the interactions we have with one another, along with those experiences that others report. We then create for ourselves an expectation of what a future interaction may be like with this person. This expectation we now have becomes the reputation of that person.

Figure 4.10 Building a reputation includes work, relationships, expectations for the future, and feedback


When we talk about a reputation, what we are expressing is what may be generally accepted as the expectation for the person’s behavior, work ethic, or work output, for example. This information is then combined with any misinformation encouraged by gaps in the information stream. Maintaining a continuous stream of available, relevant, and correct information is a sensible strategy for avoiding reputation risk.

Earlier we described connectedness as the sense of family within the group. As we evolve the discussion in relation to a decision that is made to trust or not trust we understand connectedness as related to the validation within the group of one’s reputation as acceptable and positive (Polzer, Milton & Swann, 2002). The degree to which we receive respectful treatment from the group, however, may be related to how well we value our reputation within the group (de Cremer & Tyler, 2005). Thus, as noted previously, the need to ensure that the information available to team mates, co-workers, and managers is positive and relevant. Managing the information flow may also help as the group seeks to sort out the pecking order, and make some decisions regarding the role that an individual may play within the group.

Everyone generally knows the role they have in the project group. One of the first things that managers will normally attend to is sorting out the skills and job assignments. However, in a virtual team, the need to take a leadership role can shift among team members as the focus of activity moves between remote team members. Remote team members frequently need to make decisions about activities without being able to contact team members whose working hours mean they may be unavailable at a crucial moment. Decisions impact the team member’s reputation, and therefore the ability to discover information is essential.

This is true for groups as well. Groups, teams, or departments have the same need to take charge at different times, depending on the stage or lifecycle gate in play; making decisions outside of the larger group. One of the keys to making sure the reputation is maintained is to ensure effective management of the information. Information management is an essential element of the communication plan. Identifying the stakeholders involved in a project or decision making role helps in determining to whom we need to communicate, and what information should be communicated to each stakeholder. The communication may be as simple as sending the link to your information dashboard, or ensuring specific metrics are provided on a regular basis.

Stakeholder Analysis Process for Planning Communications

The stakeholder analysis process is pretty simple and widely available. Brainstorm and record a list of those individuals and groups that will affect, or be affected by the project, initiative, or activity. This may be those working within the process, those that feed the process, or consumers of the process output. This may also need to include those that are simple observers of the process. Once this is accomplished begin to map their specific interests. Output of the analysis can be posted to a spreadsheet for ease of organizing the thoughts.

Managing your personal presence in corporate communications, web sites, and other tools is also an essential tool. Decide what interest the stakeholder has and what changes the project may place upon their interests, and how important their interest is in the process. Once you have done that, decide what role the stakeholder needs to play in the project, or if their reaction may be positive or negative. This preparation will help you decide the type and style of communications, the frequency of the communication, and the content. Taking these steps will help the team understand how to manage the information flow better, and therefore help the team, group, or department manage their reputation. Remember, your aim is to avoid surprises, misinterpretation, or miscommunication.

Individuals can use this simple process in determining new ways to manage their own reputation. Stakeholder analysis works in both directions. It is a way of determining what information someone may seek about you as well as the information you need about them.


When we employ a stereotype we are accepting impressions about others, or groups of others, based on appearances or other interactions, and form assumptions about traits that may co-occur in groups of others (Baldwin, 1992). The impression that someone may have about us will affect their decision to trust us, or not trust us. Because of the influence of stereotyping, the impression that we may have on others must be actively maintained and managed and tailored to affect the image of a “consistent,” “rational,” individual that may fulfill the “role requirements” (Schlenker, 1975).

All of us will make assumptions about the people we work with and we will use stereotypes, or previously developed mental images, in doing so. There are times when a stereotype may have a degree of accuracy and times when it can be entirely flawed. Make sure that the impression and information you make available about your work, your communications, or other information, is as consistent, accurate, and informative as possible.

We are all very familiar with social stereotypes. The mental imagery that arises when talking about work groups, organizations, or company brands are a little less obvious. Organizations and particularly brands work hard to establish simple, programmed responses amongst customers; effectively they encourage stereotyping. Consider the corporate technology store Best Buy Company, Inc. trading as BBY on the New York Stock Exchange with their trademarked mobile assistance role named the Geek Squad. The services provided by a small group of technology geeks working for Best Buy is now strongly branded, with services preceded by a reputation that brings about a common visual and skills expectation. They like it when their customers think that a technology obsessed young person with nothing on their mind but enjoying a few moments with their new computer to optimize it beyond their wildest dreams will soon arrive on their doorsteps.

But what happens when the expectations rise above the capability of the team? Perhaps the hype raises the expectations that the team may have for themselves straining the ability of the team to live up to their own expectations. As Cocchiara and Quick (2004) point out, even commonly held strong positive expectations can have a negative effect on a group or department. Overwork, burnout, and team strife are possible outcomes when a team drives too hard to live up to the expectations of others.

Negative expectations of a group’s performance can lead to the same outcome as overly positive preconceptions. Increased efforts to refute low expectations may drive a team too hard causing breakdowns in capability, causing mistakes, just as when driven by high expectations of performance. The stress incurred in the attempts to refute the stereotype can then lead to sustained reductions in performance over time (Cocchiara & Quick, 2004).

These stereotypes can be aggravated when working in a global virtual environment. Expectations that a national group will have greater engineering skills, or greater exposure to computer technologies, can add stress to the group experience as those within the group involved seek to live up to the unreasonable expectations of others. Worse still can be the expectation that a national or ethnic group lack the traits or behaviors desired for the project.

Somewhat confounding to the discussion is the notion that these preconceived ideas may be attached, not to an ethnic group or nationality, but to a corporation due to past business experience with the company or to market performance. I have seen this happen more than once and it is damaging to the organizational relationships, to the people, and to careers, as well as the corporate reputation. On one occasion I worked with two major financial institutions that came together to form a new joint venture, and on another, on the merger of two major financial institutions during an acquisition. The two situations were different but the problems were similar and equally damaging.

In the case of the merger, the acquiring team, as may often be the case, began with low expectations for their new team mate’s skill, and in response people worked long into the night to establish themselves as strong performers. The zeal to overwhelm their new peers led to exhaustion and mistakes. With the joint venture the competition to establish dominance for one team over the other caused many delays and mistakes as the project progressed. Delays in the schedule were often caused by rework as the teams pushed each other hard as they competed rather than cooperated.

A Corporate Stereotype That Caused Elevated Employee Stresses and Delays

I have been involved in a couple of mergers at this point in my career, as have most of us. The stress of having to prove oneself to the new team and the new boss can drive a person to stretch their capabilities and knowledge. Change is stressful even if the change is considered to be for the best for all involved. I had joined the company only a few months earlier knowing there was a possibility that a merger was on the horizon. It is always a good idea to do a little research before changing jobs, so I had scouted around to see if change was on the way, and had discovered several previous attempts at building a merger offer and was prepared for change. I was also pretty confident that I was going to be joining the underdog if a merger occurred.

In a merger or acquisitions situation, often members of one of the organizations may have preconceived ideas about the capabilities of the other. This may to the result of previous joint experiences or perhaps simply because of lack luster market performance. Remember that we talked earlier about how experiences create expectations of comparable performance in the future, and how groups of people may be tainted by those expectations. In this case the entire organization had been tainted by regulatory problems from the past, perhaps caused by shady dealings, as well as technology problems and failures.

We were acquired by one of the giants in the industry, and this company used only proprietary technology, a completely new information technology (IT) architecture, and a completely different development process from what our team was currently accustomed. When these teams came together, we, the new guys, had to learn new technology and new methods of working together, seemingly overnight, and at the same time participate in a complete corporate rewrite of primary corporate technologies on a very tight schedule. Our new bosses and team mates had very low expectations that we would be able to keep up, and yet we had to keep up to keep our jobs. Big stressors here. Developers worked 24 hours around the clock for days and weeks in an attempt to overcompensate for the low expectations. I would see emails sent from team members that were still working at 2am and 3am. After weeks of this behavior they would finally collapse, exhausted and frustrated as they tried to simultaneously learn the new technology and meet very tight schedules they set for themselves.

Mistakes, as one would expect to occur when teams work themselves to exhaustion, began to take place. Communication between team members dropped, and collaboration between the teams fell apart. The drop in capability, a result of overexertion as the acquired team attempted to impress the new owner, and resulting increase in stress, damaged the project team performance. In the end, while the project came in on time, the product quality suffered and the project launch was riddled with application bugs.

How Do Stereotypes Affect Cognitive Trust?

As we talk to and work with others, these formal and informal interactions are collected and cataloged as good or bad. These experiences are turned into expectations for future interactions that we hold for different work groups or groups of people (Sarker et al., 2003). We all use this information to make decisions about how we expect further interactions to play out. The decisions we gather about other people or groups of people form our belief system, and help us to decide whether a person or group is able to be trusted, or trustworthy.

Combating Stereotypes

The real problem is that preconceived expectations, whether they are talked about openly or not, can affect how well teams work together. Even social encounters with virtual team members affect our perceptions of trustworthiness. How can we deal with the problem of stereotypes and the way they can degrade trust in the work place? Trust is affected when performance is inconsistent and information is difficult to find. As you remember, the process of viewing ourselves as a member of the team is affected by how we identify with the behaviors and traits of the team, and in this case, the process of self-affirmation affects how we identify with the stereotypes (Martens, Johns, Greenberg & Schimel, 2006).

So what is a manager then to do with this knowledge? Remembering that positive stereotypes encourage trust and enable better collaborative performance, a manager must control the information available to ensure a healthy stereotype is developed. Additionally, each person, whenever there is an opportunity for interaction with other team members or groups, must take responsibility to ensure they are always presenting themselves in a manner that develops a positive viewpoint.

This can include taking any opportunity to ensure a positive story is made public in measurable ways such as weekly performance reports. Find ways to display and reinforce positive expectations. This may mean establishing performance indicators that reinforce the good performance and a consistently present a good picture of the individual and the department or group.

Group stereotypes may have a similar effect on an individual’s performance in the work place to ethnic or racial stereotypes. Groups such as quality assurance (QA) or IT test, according to Weyuker et al. (2000), often suffer a negative stereotype. Groups with a negative stereotype may, for example, be perceived as less technically capable and with a poorer grasp of the technologies than other project team members. By some authors, they have been at times, described as working in opposition to the development team by seeking ways to sabotage product deployment, rather than working together to get the product out the door.

There are a couple strategies that have been shown to work in combating the effect of negative preconceptions. This is even more important when the team is working in remote locations, distant from the core team, and therefore may be less able to address effectively the negative stereotype on their own. Information provided in the organizational metrics portal should allow individuals to follow up on their own performance, and support managers in presenting solid evidence of solid performances. The point of this discussion though is the effect that this strategy may have on trust. So how does this all tie together to affect cognitive based trust?

We briefly noted at the beginning of this discussion that cognitive based trust is comprised of inputs being of unit grouping, reputation categorization, and stereotyping. All three of the elements require the gathering of information in order to make a decision regarding the prescribing of trust to another. Stereotyping accounts for the activity of taking casual encounters with others and prescribing a positive, or negative, stereotype.

Figure 4.11 Cognitive based trust model with data inputs


Putting all of this information together provides enough detail for a person to make a decision as to whether they should or should not prescribe trust upon another person or group. How a person, department, or company manages this information can determine the effectiveness of the project team or group.

Submit your own content for publication

Submit content