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Jackie Jackson Fall 2014

Page history last edited by andeoh@gmail.com 5 years, 11 months ago


Analyzing Trust in a Team: A Team Approach

Jorge Aguilar

Bryan Anderson

Kevin Glass

Andy Oh




Team building is one of the most important processes in which a company can invest. According Becton et al. (2012) “Even with the appropriate individuals on a team, a team that does not build a trusting relationship is not an effective team [1].” Processes used in successful enterprises bear out this conclusion. When there is this much at stake, it is in the best interest of the corporation to produce high-performance teams that reflect the corporation's culture.


This study assesses three team building processes using a decision matrix by identifying three criteria for defining trust and evaluating three candidate processes to determine whether or not they promote these criteria. The selection of the criteria was based on a literature review of academic and business papers and online publications that define trust in teams. After selecting ten candidates, the authors of this study reduced the list to six criteria by independently rating each criteria then summing the scores. They were then listed in order from highest to lowest and the top three were selected.


After identifying the criteria, we performed a further literature search to identify three likely team building processes. Using an approach similar to our selection of the three criteria, we selected, defined and explained the three processes we analyzed.


The final step in our evaluation process was scoring the candidate processes and constructing the matrix.


Criteria for Evaluating Methods


The team isolated three independent criteria needed to evaluate the team/trust building exercises from a list of six candidates. The candidates were chosen based on experience then later affirmed as significant based on a literature search. The three criteria we chose were communication, engagement and competence, while we rejected unified vision/goal, cooperation and honesty. We define our criteria as:

  • Communication

According to Webster's, communications is the act or process of using words to express your ideas, thoughts, and feelings to someone else. Though this definition is complete and not in dispute, we want to amplify two points. First, communications involves acknowledgement by the “someone else.” Moreover, the acknowledgment must after active listening. The listener must understand what was communicated. There are several measures for team communications including surveys, and reflection exercises.

  • Engagement

Engagement describes how well all members willingly participate in the project and interact with each other. Techniques for measuring engagement are specified in the literature.

  • Competence

Competence is a combination of knowledge and experience. Competence implies a person is able to deal with problems within their area of specialization. Competence measurement techniques are described in the literature.


Each of these criteria have been identified in the academic or business literature as significant with respect to team/trust building. They also have identifiable metrics useful for assessing how well the team assimilates the criteria, thereby indicating whether or not the team building process succeeded.


Methods for Building Trust


The techniques we investigated included some business related techniques such as U.C. Berkeley’s HR Team Building web site (2014) and techniques suggested by online businesses specializing in team building like Wilderdom (2014) and BusinessBalls (2014). We also considered familiar approaches, such as Kanban boards, agile work processes and knowledge management repositories.


To isolate our three candidates, we first eliminated processes that were deemed to be either too general or too broad. The team isolated three independent methods for team/trust building from the final list of six candidates, by reaching a consensus in a manner similar to our selection of evaluation criteria.The three methods we chose were daily scrum meetings, retrospectives and BaFa' BaFa' while we rejected discussion forums, online game-times and cross-team collaboration. We define our methods as:


  • Daily Scrum

A scrum is typically a 15-minute meeting held at the beginning of a work-day.  A daily scrum process is typically implemented in software development.  Its focus is to allow each team member to state what they were working on the previous day, and what they’re going to be doing that day.  Scrums can be held either synchronously or asynchronously, meaning every person can attend live via webcam, in-person or send their status updates via email or message boards.


According to Paasivaara, Durasiewicz and Lassenius (2008):  “Positive experiences of using scrum included, improved communication, trust and motivation, as well as better perceived quality. Challenges included misunderstood requirements, lack of video conferencing possibilities, and awkward communication in distributed meetings due to cultural and geographical distance.” This approach reflects Hofstede’s notion of a collective culture by creating a sense of shared experience and the ability to reach out to team members if they’re working on something similar and could use the other person’s help or expertise.


Scrum processes are being incorporated into product development cycles.  Disciplines adopting the scrum process include User-Experience (UX), Visual Design, Copy-Writing, Front-End Development and Research.  Though communication challenges may arise from a geographically distributed team, technologies have been developed that can help minimize them and lead to better collaboration.  Development groups such as Microsoft (2014) are continuing to focus on scrum processes and how it can help geographically distributed teams .


  • Retrospectives

Retrospectives are meetings or virtual meetings that allow an entire team to discuss how their collaboration and any other element involved in being a member of a team are working. This process, according to Kerth (2001), allows every team member to answer typically four key questions.  These key questions are:   
1.  What did we do well?     
2.  What did we learn?     
3.  What should we do next time?   
4.  What still puzzles us?

This process is distinct from scrum as it only addresses four key questions and adds insight on how to improve processes.Typically this process occurs every two weeks and can be done in real time, or asynchronously and address multiple cultures.  According to Waite and Collins (2013), “Conducting Retrospectives frequently and regularly supports a team to continuously improve their performance.”   To address multiple locations or a different time zone issue, Retrospectives can be held using online meeting services such as Join.me so that everyone can view the screen of the meeting leader.  A survey service such as surveymonkey.com can be used to record answers from the four key questions, and this would address certain time zone constraints. Degen-Portnoy (2013)   


Allowing every team member to answer these questions in a public forum gives everyone the opportunity to understand how others interact. Understanding the differences in interactions is an effective process for building a sense of trust among the team, thus creating a balanced environment. The process of having retrospectives holds everyone accountable for negative feedback.


  • BaFa’ BaFa’
    BaFa’ BaFa’ is a role playing game developed by Simulation Training Systems (2014) and designed to get promote cultural understanding. This technique has been used for cross-cultural team building by several educational institutions include NYU (2014). The basic concept of the game is for two teams to adopt different artificial cultures, then have them solve a problem or perform some task. This is a one time process that, if necessary can be repeated throughout the life-time of the project.

    Prior to the start of the game, two cultures are created along the lines of Hall’s or Hofstede’s characterization of culture, e.g., High-Context and Low-Context cultures. For clarity, one culture is the Alphan, the other is the Betan. These artificial cultures are given a set of customs, rituals and language to make the
    m more realistic.

    Two teams are formed from the project team and each team is assigned one of the cultures. After spending sometime practicing the nuances of their adopted culture, the teams are given a problem to solve. Each member of the Alphan team must interact with a member from the Betan team to solve the problem. After each member of both teams have had an opportunity to interact, the simulation part of the game ends and the discussion phase begins.

    During the discussion part of the game, players discuss the what happened during the game, discuss issues related to the cultures, how they interpret both the Alphan and Betan cultures and how they relate to their own cultures.
    The game is flexible, allowing groups to adapt it to their needs. For example, if an organization wants to emphasize the impact of cross-cultural perceptions of competence, both teams could be assigned a programming task or a project design problem. The game could also be used with virtual teams.

















BaFa’ BaFa’





The decisions were made by applying each criteria, one at a time, to each method. The results of the analysis are as follows:


  • Communication

    • All three approaches encourage team communications and can be applied to virtual, geographically and culturally distributed groups.

    • Scrum meetings encourage team communications as one of its central tenets. Because scrum requires active listening, team members will develop an understanding of one another. This practice encourages commitment on the part of each team member, thus developing trust.

    • Retrospectives encourage team members to discuss how things have gone on their project over an extended time. Rather than focusing on immediate needs, it encourages team members to express their views on the status of the team. Again, this encourages commitment on the part of team members.

    • BaFa’ BaFa’ is a tool for encouraging team members to solve a problem. By requiring members to adopt a different cultural persona, it encourages team members to understand the influence of culture on communications.

  • Engagement

    • Scrum encourages engagement by making each member responsible for reporting on their part of the project and contributing to its overall progress.

    • Retrospectives encourage team members to help improve the functioning of their team. This gives the team members a stake in the functioning of the team, making the team members more engaged in the process.

    • BaFa’ BaFa’ does not address questions of engagement because it requires participants to act out of character in an attempt to understand cultural diversity. It does not address a specific project, which suggests that it does not promote a “willing” participation.

  • Competence

    • Scrum encourages competence because team members are publically held accountable for their progress. Simply put, a lack of competence will be on display, to avoid embarrassment, team members will want to gain competence or to seek out competent assistance.

    • Retrospectives encourage competence in much the same way as scrum, but the focus is on team competence and not individual competence.

    • BaFa’ BaFa’ is not designed to acknowledge competence. Its focus is on process not product, so how well a team solves a problem is irrelevant.



From our analysis, the two best options for building trust among team members are scrum and retrospectives. Both of these options can be, and have been, adapted to cross-cultural, geographically distributed teams making them viable candidate for the stated purpose.


Using a combination of personal experience and a cursory research of the existing literature, we collectively evaluated a set of criteria and chose a set of three by consensus. We followed a similar approach in selecting three processes/methods that would help build trust among teams. Applying these definitions, we were able to agree recommend the two methods mentioned above for team/trust building.




Becton, C., Wysocki, A., Kepner, K. (2012). Building Teamwork and the Importance of Trust in a Business Environment (Report #HR018). Gainsville FL: University of Florida


Degen-Portnoy, P. (2013, October 30). Conducting Project Retrospective with a Distributed Team. Retrieved October 12, 2014, from http://degenportnoy.blogspot.com/2013/10/conducting-project-retrospective-with.html


Kerth, N. (2001). Anatomy of a Retrospective. In Project retrospectives: A handbook for team reviews (1st ed., Vol. 1). New York: Dorset House.


Microsoft Developer Network. (Oct 2014). Distributed Scrum. Retrieved from  http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj620910.aspx


NYU Sociology Dept. Lesson Plans. (Oct 2014). Lesson Plan: BAFA BAFA. Retrieved from http://www.nyu.edu/classes/persell/aIntroNSF/LessonPlans/BAFABAFALesson%20Plan.htm


Paasivaara, M., Durasiewicz, S., & Lassenius, C. (2008). Using scrum in a globally distributed project: a case study. Software Process: Improvement & Practice, 13(6), 527-544. doi10.1002/spip.402


Shirts, G. (2009, Oct). BaFa' BaFa' Train the trainer: when used for diversity. Presented at Indiana State University, Office of Diversity.Terre Haute. IN.


Simulation Training Systems.  (Oct 2014). BaFa' BaFa' --Cross-culture/Diversity for Business http://www.simulationtrainingsystems.com/corporate/products/bafa-bafa/


U.C. Berkeley HR.  (Oct 9, 2014). Steps to Build an Effective Team. Retrieved from http://hrweb.berkeley.edu/guides/managing-hr/interaction/team-building/steps


Waite, L., & Lyons, C. (2013, July 8). The 4 Questions of a Retrospective and Why They Work. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.infoq.com/articles/4-questions-retrospective






Comments (6)

Danny Mittleman said

at 8:38 am on Oct 14, 2014

As most recent comment is on top, they need to be read bottom up to match the order they were written.

Danny Mittleman said

at 8:37 am on Oct 14, 2014

The write ups about the matrix are well done, though.

Danny Mittleman said

at 8:36 am on Oct 14, 2014

Your matrix: So, what does a yes mean and what does a no mean? You don't say. Does a yes mean that, for example, "communication happens"? Is it that "communication is improved"? That "communication skills are exercised"?

Danny Mittleman said

at 8:42 am on Oct 14, 2014

See Team Jermaine matrix for how they set up and described a 1 to 5 scale rather than a yes/no scale. The 5 points vs. 2 points on scale isn't as important as the fact they describe what each point means.

Danny Mittleman said

at 8:34 am on Oct 14, 2014

"as U.C. Berkeley’s HR Team Building web site" You mean "at", right?

"Hofstede’s notion of a collective culture" No citation provided. And I don't think Hofstede would agree that you can affect collective culture via a team building exercise (which is how I understand your use here). But I do like that you worked to abstract out concepts from the exercise and tried to apply them back to a theoretical model.

I've never read about "Retrospective" as a methodology. This is interesting to me, and wish I'd read it before our Oct 13 reflection exercise on the project. I will adjust the next reflection to use this methodology.

BaFa’ BaFa’: Not clear to me how you suggest playing this game virtually. Did you think through the distance issue with this one?

Danny Mittleman said

at 8:26 am on Oct 14, 2014

"According to Webster's, " If you say this, you need to cite it! And given the definition was not what you wanted it to say, you would have been better off taking one from an Intro to Communication textbook.

"Techniques for measuring engagement are specified in the literature." What literature? You don't explain. Same for competence.

"Each of these criteria have been identified in the academic or business literature as significant with respect to team/trust building" What literature? You don't point reader to any of it.

This section of your write up is rather weak. I am writing this note before reading further; but at this point it is not at all clear to me how you will evaluate your alternatives against these criteria as your descriptions of each are far too general. What would make an alternative load high on communication or engagement or competence as opposed to loading low?

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