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Communication, Trust and Performance: The Influence of Trust on Performance in A/E/C Cross-functional, Geographically Distributed Work

TitleCommunication, Trust and Performance: The Influence of Trust on Performance in A/E/C Cross-functional, Geographically Distributed Work
Publication TypeWorking Paper
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsZolin, R, Fruchter, R, Hinds, P
Date Published04/2003
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsCenter for Integrated Facility Engineering, CIFE, Design-Build Teams, Distributed Work, Performance, Stanford University, Trust
AbstractThe purpose of this paper is to report the results of the CIFE research study of trust in cross-functional, geographically distributed A/E/C teams. Cross-functional, geographically distributed teams provide the construction industry with great advantages by bringing diverse skills to bear on problems and projects that span traditional organizational functions. Although companies are quickly adopting the model of cross-functional, geographically distributed teams, little is known about the new social environment that this creates for team members. A major challenge in such teams is the development of interpersonal trust between team members. The objective of this research is to determine the influence of geographic distribution, cross-functionality on communication, interpersonal trust and individual performance between two team members, called a dyad, in an Architecture, Engineering and Construction (A/E/C) industry setting. Our research questions were: What are the key predictors of interpersonal trust in distributed A/E/C teams? And how does interpersonal trust influence individual performance? We hypothesized that trust is more difficult in cross-functional, geographically distributed dyads because of the different disciplinary perspectives and the lack of face-to-face interaction available when working at a distance. We also hypothesize that trust improves the work process performance of both members of the dyad, i.e. the trustor and the trustee, leading to greater work outputs, such as less time, less cost and higher quality. To test these hypotheses we studied 224 dyads of team members in 6 design/build teams working on large building projects in the USA. The data collection was based on two types of questionnaires. We gathered individual performance data from the Project Managers. We then asked the team members about their trust relationships with four team members chosen at random from their team. The data was analyzed using correlations, multivariate regressions and structural equation modeling. As expected we found that team members who were geographically distributed had less personal communication, which was associated with lower perceived trustworthiness and lower trust. We were surprised to find that cross-functional dyads had higher perceived trustworthiness and higher trust. We surmise that something akin to "Professional courtesy" may operate in these cases. High trust increased the work process performance of both the trustor and the trustee and resulted in higher output performance for both. Further longitudinal research is needed to determine if these relationships are significant over time. The implications of these findings for members and managers of cross-functional geographically distributed teams are mentioned briefly but will be addresses in more detail in a subsequent publication.
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