The Propensity to Trust

Topic(s): teams, trust

Topic: Trust, Teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Why do we trust? Moving beyond individual to dyadic perceptions
Authors: M. Yakovleva, R.R., Reilly, and R. Werko
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Trust among employees is a prerequisite to good teamwork.  After all, if employees don’t trust in each other, how are they ever going to work well together?  Trust comes in two basic varieties: The propensity to trust people in general and relational trust, which refers to the assessment of a particular individual’s trustworthiness.  In a recent study by Yakovleva, Reilly and Werko (2010), the authors studied trust between pairs of co-located and virtual coworkers.

Study participants included 103 employees working for a product development team in the U.S.

Yakovleva et al. found that a person’s propensity to trust others is a stable individual difference that predicts the level of trust held by team members.  Apparently, when employees are predisposed to trusting other people in general, they are perceived by others to be trustworthy.

Interestingly, the effect of propensity to trust on actual trust was stronger for employees working in virtual teams as compared to those working in co-located teams (although those more likely to trust people in general tended to develop higher levels of trust when placed on both virtual and collocated teams).  Nevertheless, Yakovleva and colleagues suggest that employees with a high propensity to trust should be delegated to high-priority teams for which the stakes of teamwork are high.

Finally, trust was a better predictor of employee organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) when the employee dyads were co-located vs. virtual.  Notably, the authors speculate that perceptions of a person’s ability (based on things such as level of education, experience, field of expertise, etc.) may be especially important for the formation of trust in virtual dyads.

Although there appear to be slight differences in how trust develops between co-located and virtual employee dyads, employees’ propensity to trust others is an important factor in determining whether employees will actually place trust in each other and ultimately engage in more effective teamwork.  These findings are also important as they relate to virtual teams since the world of work itself is becoming more and more virtual.

Yakovleva, M., Reilly, R.R., & Werko, R. (2010). Why do we trust? Moving beyond individual to dyadic perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 79-91.