The Rules of Virtual Groups: Trust, Liking, and Performance in Computer-Mediated Communication

Authors

  • Joseph B. Walther,

    1. Joseph B. Walther (PhD, University of Arizona) is a professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. Ulla Bunz (PhD, University of Kansas) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Florida State University.
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  • Ulla Bunz

    1. Joseph B. Walther (PhD, University of Arizona) is a professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. Ulla Bunz (PhD, University of Kansas) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Florida State University.
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  • The authors thank Natalya Bazarova, Tracy Loh, Laura Bordon, Elizabeth Goulding, Anna Pearlstein, and Kathryn Wickham for their assistance in background and coding work. A portion of this research was presented at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, January 2005. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Joseph Walther, Department of Communication, Cornell University, 303 Kennedy Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853 USA.

Abstract

Research on virtual groups reflects concerns about the development of trust and liking and about the performance of partners who do not see each other or work proximally. Previous studies have explored behaviors leading to subjectively experienced trust and/or liking, or trusting behaviors associated with group output, but have not linked behaviors, subjective affect, and output quality. Deriving principles from the social information processing theory of computer-mediated communication, this research identified and tested six communication rules for virtual groups. Employing a quasi-experimental procedure to maximize the variance in rule-following behavior, some distributed groups in a cross-university course were assigned to follow rules as part of their grades on group assignments conducted using computer-mediated communication from which messages were collected and later coded. Through self-reported measures of rule following and affect, results reveal correlations between each rule with trust and liking. Less consistent are the relationships between rule following, specific observed behaviors, and actual performance quality. Interpretations suggest that a powerful set of collaboration rules has been identified or that the mere following of any rules and norms reduces uncertainty and enhances trust in distributed work teams.

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