The Mind’s Eye on Personal Profiles: A Cognitive Perspective on Profile Elements that Inform Initial Trustworthiness Assessments and Social Awareness in Virtual Project Teams

Abstract

Collaboration in virtual project teams heavily relies on interpersonal trust, for which perceived professional trustworthiness is an important determinant. In face to face teams colleagues form a first impression of each others trustworthiness based on signs and signals that are ‘naturally’ available. However, virtual project team members do not have the same opportunities to assess trustworthiness. This study provides insight in the information elements that virtual project team members value to assess professional trustworthiness in the initial phase of collaboration. The trustworthiness formed initially is highly influential on interpersonal trust formed during latter collaboration. We expect trustors in virtual teams to especially value information elements (= small containers for personal data stimulating the availability of specific information) that provide them with relevant cues of trust warranting properties of a trustee. We identified a list with fifteen information elements that were highly valued across trustors (n = 226) to inform their trustworthiness assessments. We then analyzed explanations for preferences with the help of a theory-grounded coding scheme for perceived trustworthiness. Results show that respondents value those particular information elements that provide them with multiple cues (signaling multiple trust warranting properties) to assess the trustworthiness of a trustee. Information elements that provide unique cues (signaling for a specific trust warranting property) could not be identified. Insight in these information preferences can inform the design of artefacts, such as personal profile templates, to support acquaintanceships and social awareness especially in the initial phase of a virtual project team.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Ghent University students for their dedicated collaboration.

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Correspondence to Ellen Rusman.

Appendices

Appendix A - Coding Scheme grounded in TrustWorthiness ANtecedent (TWAN) Schema

Appendix B – Condensed Version of Questionnaire

General

  1. 1.

    What is your gender? (male/female)

  2. 2.

    What is your age? (… year)

  3. 3.

    Do you have experience with collaboration within a face-to-face project team within work-or study related settings? (n/y)

  4. 4.

    Do you have experience with collaboration within a virtual project team within work-or study related settings? (n/y)

  5. 5.

    Do you have experience with online conversations with people you have never met face-to-face? (n/y). (y): These conversations were primarily mediated via: text (chat, e-mail); audio conferences; videoconferences; SMS; other, namely …………

  6. 6.

    Did you meet someone face-to-face which you previously only knew online? (n/y) If so, was this person face-to-face very differently then you had until them imagined him/her to be? In which way(s)?

Imagine:

You recently became a member of an international virtual team within an European financed project. This virtual team collaborates independent from time, place, organization and country via a virtual project space during the lifespan of the project. Within the project you have to jointly deliver a product. You work with people from different organizations (companies, governmental and non-profit), with each of them specialized in a certain knowledge domain and with certain discipline-related skills. In order to develop a product meeting high quality standards it is important that you all integrate this specialized knowledge and use your skills. To finish this product in time you are strongly dependent on each other. For you personally the success of this project is important as well. You don’t know the people you are going to collaborate with and it is not possible to meet each face-to-face within this project.

You want to form an impression of the trustworthiness of your different team members within the first two weeks of the project. Within the project this is arranged by making profile information from each team member available. You can determine yourself which information you would like to have available within these profiles.

  1. 7.

    Which profile information is important to form a first impression of the trustworthiness of a virtual project team member? Think of at least 15 information elements that are important for you to form this impression (open question).

Imagine:

You are in the same situation as just described. Several people have already thought about different types of information elements which could become available within a profile and have listed them. You may also determine what type of information will be made available within pre-structured profiles. All team members are asked to indicate per listed information element:

  1. 8.

    The importance of having this information element available in a profile to form a first impression of trustworthiness of a team member within the first two weeks of a project.

Indicate your choice by marking: (1) Definitely not important, (2) Not important, (3) Neutral, (4) Important, (5) Definitely important (close-ended question).

  1. 9.

    The practical usefulness of having this information element available in a profile to collaborate in a virtual project team.

Check the box if you think this element would be practically useful (close-ended question).

Respondents could here choose from a pre-defined list with 154 Information elements, each described with a short description, and divided in ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ information (Danis, 2002 ).

  1. 10.

    List the ten most important information elements to have available in a profile to form a first impression of trustworthiness of a team member within the first two weeks of a project (open question).

  2. 11.

    Describe subsequently for each selected information element (open question):

    • What are the facts you can derive from this information

  3. 12.

    Describe subsequently for each selected information element (open question):

    • What is your interpretation of this information in relation to your impression of trustworthiness of your team members? What can you derive from this information leading to your trustworthiness impression?

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Rusman, E., van Bruggen, J., Sloep, P. et al. The Mind’s Eye on Personal Profiles: A Cognitive Perspective on Profile Elements that Inform Initial Trustworthiness Assessments and Social Awareness in Virtual Project Teams. Comput Supported Coop Work 22, 159–179 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-012-9171-5

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Key words

  • social awareness
  • CSCW
  • groupware
  • trust
  • online identity
  • presence
  • virtual teams