Original Research

Invoking team trust to facilitate performance management in the context of virtual teams

Lutfiyya Moosa, Hayley Pearson, Morris Mthombeni
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 54, No 1 | a3823 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v54i1.3823 | © 2023 Lutfiyya Moosa, Hayley Pearson, Morris Mthombeni | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 November 2022 | Published: 31 August 2023

About the author(s)

Lutfiyya Moosa, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Illovo, South Africa
Hayley Pearson, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Illovo, South Africa
Morris Mthombeni, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Illovo, South Africa


Purpose: Recent years have seen an upsurge in virtual working arrangements. However, many managers find it difficult to manage and motivate employees in the absence of face-to-face contact. Traditional, structured performance management approaches therefore need to give way to more holistic and technology-enabled approaches that are better suited to virtual work. This study set out to investigate how managers optimise the performance of virtual teams, with specific reference to the role of trust, both within and across teams. While there is growing interest in the role of trust as a driver of virtual team performance, there is insufficient convergence between the respective literatures on virtual teams, team trust and performance management, leaving a research gap.

Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 middle and top managers of virtual teams who worked in large companies in South Africa. The collected data were then subject to thematic analysis.

Findings/results: These included: Virtual work can lead to a work–life imbalance; a lack of human contact can strain interpersonal relationships and erode trust; and optimal performance management in a virtual context depends on a trusting environment, clear and realistic goals, ‘agile management practices’ (including coaching and frequent feedback) and appropriate technologies.

Practical implications: The study provides new insights into the challenges faced by middle managers in creating trusting and performance-geared relationships with virtual team members.

Originality/value: The study expands on the existing team dynamics literature while also providing a convenient conceptual framework to guide future studies on the drivers of virtual team trust and optimal performance management.


virtual working; virtual teams; trust; team trust; performance management.

JEL Codes

M12: Personnel Management • Executives; Executive Compensation; M15: IT Management; M54: Labor Management

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


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