Category: Blog

Call for Participation: Transformation Leadership and Disruptive Innovation

Innovation for Leadership logo

Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation

Date: April 9th 2018
Place: IT University of Copenhagen
Duration: 8.30 – 16.00

I4L (“Innovation for Leadership”) calls for applicants to participate in the workshop: “Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation”. The day-long workshop will take place on Monday April 9th, at the IT University of Copenhagen.

Speakers and topics:

  • Alexander Richter, Associate Professor, ITU, on I4L.
  • Thomas Kastrup, Enterprise Innovation & Technology Architect, Ørsted, on Transformative Leadership and Disruptive Innovation.
  • Hanne Westh Nicolajsen Associate Professor, ITU and Raluca Stana PhD Fellow, ITU, on Ambidexterity and Open Innovation.
  • Lene Nielsen, Associate Professor ITU, and Anders Høegh Nissen, PodLab, on What if?!! – Design of disruptive innovation.
  • The day ends with participants drafting their individual plans for innovation.

Participants: The workshop is aimed at leaders in a position to enact change and who are motivated to learn and apply a new digital mind set in their organizations. There is a limited number of seats available.
Topics: The workshop “Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation” will focus on providing knowledge, tools, and methods to both recognize the opportunities and tackle the challenges related to disruptive innovation and digital transformation.
Methods: Inspiring keynotes from experts, co-creation, idea generation, space for reflection, and group work.
Follow-up: After the workshop has ended we offer a follow-up talk to evaluate and guide transformations further.
Goal: The participants will be equipped with tools and a customised plan to implement in their company.

To be considered for participation we invite all interested leaders to complete an online form by March 12th. Those selected will be informed by March 19th.

The project “Innovation for Leadership” (I4L), aims at upskilling and equipping leaders with the necessary tools to tackle the challenges and harvest the opportunities related to the new digital economy. I4L is supported by the Danish Industry Foundation and carried out by a dedicated team of researchers from the IT University of Copenhagen.

The workshops are supported by The Danish Industry Foundation and free of charge for the participants. The workshop “Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation” is one out of three workshops. The participants will be advised by a dedicated team of experts in one of three topics: “Digital Leadership and Communication” (8th September 2016), “Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation” (April 9th, 2018), and “Data-driven Leadership and Analytics” (September 2018).

For more information, please read our Press Release, visit our website, write at or follow us on Twitter @I4L_DK, or the LinkedIn Group.


Workshop Impact: Digital Leadership and Communication. A case study of the digital “kindness factor”

This article presents a few practical examples of how to be “kind” in digital communication practices as a leader, and the impact it has on employees.

Workshop participants talking

A few months have passed by since our first workshop: ”Digital Leadership and Communication”. In this article, we will take a closer look at the impact of the workshop and the evolution of  participants’ stances on communicative leadership specifically – the kindness factor.

These workshops are impactful and tailor-made to suit the needs of these leaders involved, but what makes  the “I4L – Innovation for Leadership” project truly special is that it engages with participants beyond the workshops, ensuring adoption of research-supported methodologies in work practices long after workshops have concluded.

Embracing a New Digital Reality, Together

There are many benefits to joining the I4L Community. More than sustained involvement after workshop completion, we provide opportunities to build relationships not only with researchers and students at the forefront of Digital Transformation studies but also with other leaderships across a multitude of industrie, all looking to respond to the fast-pace of digitalization impacting the labor force.

We need to focus on the digital part of reality, because the world is becoming bigger. If Denmark is going to be in front of that, we need to become much better at the digital, than we are today.

Participant in our first workshop: Digital Leadership and Communication

I4L exists to connect academia with the frameworkshops and methods practitioners are yet not exposed to in their work life, while simultaneously allowing for practitioners to reciprocate, informing academia of the realities these new developments present. This exchange enables a mixed approach to digital leadership and is vital and unique to the project.

Among some of the feedback we have received after the workshop, was that the tools provided and the reflection space, has helped leaders to not only receive information, but also enabled them to take actions.

But these insights and knowledge exchanges are not available only to workshop participants. Leaders can also request membership to our I4L Community and join the conversation there.

Follow-up Interviews: Workshop Impacts in Practice

One of the leaders stated that after the workshop he became more conscious about how he uses digital communication tools.

When I’m not using (Digital Communication Tools) for a meeting, I’m using them to engage. Knowing the person in the other end, instead of just having the meeting and getting stuff done.

You need to engage (digitally) the same way you engage with someone in a (face-to-face) interaction.

-A leader on the impact of change engagement practices after our first workshop

Another leader presented the tool she was provided with in a series of meetings with her team and the teams she is interacting with on a regular basis: “And I think now because there hasn’t been so much focus on it in our team, or in our whole department (…) There was a lot to discuss and it was a lot to improve on.”

The Kindness Factor

During the workshop, leaders discussed several action points that they would like to work on, and some reported their progress. For example, one of the leaders mentioned they will work on the “kindness factor”. After two months, we interviewed the leader to learn more about it:

Q: One of the things you wanted to work on was something you called the “kindness factor”, and you also explained that due to your technical background you had a tendency to give too many technical details, and that you’d like to work on that. I wanted to hear how did that go?

A: Well, let’s put it this way, it’s very hard to do that, but I think I moved away from the very deep technical interaction into a more strategic approach in the work that I do. You can’t go to the CEO and tell him about the technical details. He will just look at you and go blank… And looking at it from an internal perspective I moved from having too much saying in to what the developers do and how. I still come up with suggestions, but it’s more the why we are doing stuff, like what are the issues we are solving, not how we solve it. I leave it up to them. So, improving on it, I’m not perfect, but getting there.

Q: That’s great! Do you have any examples that come to your mind, when you mention the kindness factors, and the way you communicate digitally?

A: Definitely! I usually write a text, and then I delete it, and then I say “Hi, how are you, how does it go?”, and then I paste it in again. So, I do that every day, and I’ve done that since the workshop, and it has actually worked out quite well.

Q: Tell me more about it! So how is it working quite well? Do you get different responses from people?

A: I don’t know! I get a different interaction, but I think the response is the same. I’ve been refraining from doing so, because it can seem impersonal to me: you don’t ask because you want to know, you’re asking because that is the code of conduct, right? I don’t like that. I want to ask because I want to know. So, yes, sometimes I get a different response, because I do it with people I didn’t used to, and who are not accustomed to that type of interaction, but I think that the way I worked with people has changed, because of this. I at least feel I can get more done, and have a certain amount of slack that you can work with, and it grows, the more personal interaction you have with people.

Q: This is fantastic. So, do you feel that the performance has kind of increased, because you have a higher level of connection with people?

A: Well, I’m not saying that performance has changed, because it’s the same people. They have their skill-set and that is not going to change because of me being kind to them. But you can have another level of leverage by being kind, and you can ask people to do more, because they will automatically want to do more and contribute more, when you are kind.

This article shows an insight into how digital communication practices that convey care and kindness, and are attuned to the person we are communicating to, has a positive impact on the interaction.

Are you interested in applying to participate in our next workshop on Transformational Leadership and Disruptive Innovation, then learn more and apply here.

To stay updated on our research insights and news about our next workshops, remember to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter @i4l_dk.

The Role of Motivation

This article is for leaders that want to understand how to motivate employees.

Information technology (IT) has increased the possibilities for remote collaboration significantly. IT entails the ability to work together in setups where time and space is rendered insignificant. This possibility for breaking down geographical barriers has been sieged by smaller and larger corporations worldwide. However, the lacking interactions among team members poses some challenges. One of these is the ability to lead and manage teams where physical interactions are scarce or non-existing (Geister et al., 2006).

An important property, when it comes to leading and managing digital teams is motivation: The ability to understand how a space that motivates your employees is created, and how you facilitate this environment, will generate positive results for businesses (Geister et al., 2006). Motivation is a generically fluid term of which there are many different perceptions as it largely is a subjective feeling, associated with several psychological experiences and expressions. To put this into perspective, this contribution therefore connects the term, with the theme of digital collaboration specifically motivation in digital workplaces.

Among some of the advantages of motivation is an increased productivity and reduction of costs (Gilley, et el., 2009). Talking about motivation in case of groups or teams, we can say that “Motivational processes are crucial not only for individuals but also for the performance of teams” (Geister et al., 2006: 460). The overall performance is enhanced, as collective motivation rises.
As the overall determinant of motivation is external factors, the leader’s responsibility for motivated employees is rather significant. Bearing this in mind, one might argue that the motivation you generate among your employees is the accumulation of the positive influences you are able to make as a leader. For this, we see a variety of influences which you can impose, such as generating goal orientation, create a feedback culture, and attention to differences in people, as described below.

What is motivation?

Neurologically, the feeling can be explained as a relief of dopamine, a reward-activated hormone, which plays a central role in reward-motivated behavior (Stellar and Stellar, 1985). In this lies an attention to the human brain, and its reactions to the external environment. What causes the relief of dopamine is, of course, as subjective as any other feeling or understanding related to individual. Generally speaking, feeling motivated is associated with excitement, the urge to contribute, and interest in what one engages in. Naturally, what interests people is different, but a way to categorize the justifications people have for performing a task, motivation is divided into intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you perform an activity, because you have interest in this. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand, is when you perform an activity to achieve a separate outcome (Deci and Ryan, 2000).



In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Daniel Pink writes about three elements, which altogether motivate us. Rather than only paying attention to extrinsic motivation, such as monetary rewards, he points out the possibility to develop as an individual as key to motivate employees. (Pink, 2009). The three elements are: autonomy, which is the ability to be self-directed and direct out own lives. Businesses should address this by offering self-determination to its employees. The second is mastery: This addresses our urge to improve our skillset. Third is purpose, which means to recognise that people wish to contribute purposefully, which means that profit alone does not create great results. The core idea in Pink’s book is that stimulating extrinsic motivation alone does not work. Not to say that money will profoundly hinder motivation, moreover that mo ney alone is not a sufficient motivator (Pink, 2009).

A recent study from the Norwegian school of business (2017) shows that extrinsically motivated employees risk to burnout quickly, experience stress and anxiety as pressure increases, as well as conflicts in personal life. From this study, they found that intrinsically motivated employees performed better overall, and experienced job-satisfaction as well as more commitment (Kuvaas, et al., 2017).

How do you keep your employees motivated?

There are two key approaches leaders should be aware of, when motivating employees:

Create goal-orientation. For this, leaders must address the differences among employees. The individuality should play a role, as to how challenges are perceived individually. Some might be intimidated by the complexity of a task, where others find motivation in mastering new skills. Ways to approach this is first: Know when to set goals. There is a line between being too general where goals are annual or bi-annual event, to micromanagement, where employees are constantly measured on a daily basis. In order to set the adequate goals, leaders must address whether the goals are attainable, and if the employees have the knowledge and tools to reach these goals (Lazenby, 2008).

Provide feedback. Additionally, leaders should give feedback on these goals, as a follow-up on progress. This involves also a certain degree of recognition among some employees, where feedback should be given as a way to inform whether a task has been executed correctly. Some employees might have the need to get a direction for what to do, in order to obtain a goal, rather than criticism on their work. In some cases, this might work counterproductive demotivate in some cases (Lazenby, 2008).

Summing up, motivation is an important component in businesses, which effective leaders search to impose among employees, as motivated employees will contribute to corporate success, where goal-setting and feedback can be used as means for this.

In I4L we do research to improve leaders’ skills, to prepare them for the digital future.




01. Ryan, Richard & Edward L. Deci (2000). “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions”. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25 (1): 54–67.

02. Gilley, A., Gilley, J., & McMillan, H. (2009). ”Organizational change: Motivation, communication, and leadership effectiveness.” Performance Improvement Quarterly, 21(4), 75–94.

03. Geister, S., Konradt, U., & Hertel, G. (2006). ”Effects of process feedback on motivation, satisfaction, and performance in virtual teams.” Small Group Research, 37: 459-489.

04. Kuvaas, B., Buch, R., Weibei, A., Dysvik, A. & Nerstad, C.G.L. (2017). ”Do intrinsic and extrinsic motivation relate differently to employee outcomes?” Journal of Economic Psychology, 61, 244-258.

05. Lazenby, S. (2008), “How to motivate employees: What research is telling us”, Public Management, no. September, pp. 22-25.

06. Pink, D.H. (2009), ”Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”. Riverhead Books.

07. Stellar, J.R. & Stellar, E. (1985). “The neurobiology of motivation and reward”, Springer-Verlag, 6-22

I4L in the press

Recently, there have been a few articles that have featured the I4L project:

Email and Skype meetings are forcing leaders to shake up their communication habits. (ITU Press) (in Danish)
Skal du frygte at robotten overtager dit job? (SCM & Logistics, only in Danish)
Fremtiden er her nu: Men tænk dig om, inden du digitaliserer. (EGN Network Denmark, only in Danish)

Report on our first workshop – “Digital Leadership and Communication”

Reflections on our first workshop – “Digital Leadership and Communication”

For blogpost

On 8.9. 12 handpicked leaders from Danish companies met at IT University of Copenhagen to learn about the chances and challenges of digital communication for leaders.

After an introduction of the I4L project, the team members, as well as the participants, the workshop was kicked off by an inspirational keynote on “Leading Creativity in the Digital Workplace”, by Mette Kim Bohnstedt  as announced in a previous blog post. With many hands-on examples Mette illustrated how are our jobs changing, how we are bombarded with information, and how creativity occupies an important role in the new digital society.

An important aspect of the workshop, that was also pointed out by the participants, was the interactive nature of the sessions, as well as the balance between information and reflection.

In this context, amonst other things, the participants applied a framework that was developed for the workshop that allowed the leaders to critically reflect on how they communicate, adapt, listen, understand, and empathize when their communication is mediated by technology. Some of the action points mentioned, were: “working on my kindness factor when I communicate digitally”, “focus on building an atmosphere for creative thinking”, “be more inclusive towards digital workers and have more frequent communication, despite the time zone difference”.

Some of the things the participants reported to have learned from the workshop, were: “types of motivation – how I can become a better remote leader.”; “a really useful framework for continuing my work within digital transformation”, “a wealth of cases and inspiration from other participants”.

We are looking forward to working further with the participating companies of the workshop.

feedback tree


Key note speaker announcement for our first workshop “Digital Leadership and Communication” – Mette Kim Bohnstedt

We are super excited to announce Mette Kim Bohnstedt as our Key-note speaker for our first workshop!

Mette Kim Bohnstedt is Senior Consultant and Program Director at the Copenhagen Institute of Neuro Creativity; Founding Learning Architect for a school in Rajkot, India; and Senior Trainer for Escalino, where she focuses on social entrepreneurship within innovation.

In the last year, among many exciting projects, Mette has been part of designing and managing a 13-day program: Creative Capacities and Digital Leadership (CCDL) for Public Service Top Leaders from Estonia, Finland, the UK and the Netherlands, program commissioned by the Top Civil Service Excellence Centre of the Government of Estonia.

Mette has three master degrees, from top universities, such as Harvard, Bentley and CBS, all with a focus on technology, innovation, and education.

With an interest in improv comedy and so many years’ experience as an educator within innovation, we can only look forward to hosting Mette as a Key-note speaker in our first, out of three workshops: “Digital Leadership and Communication”.

We wish Mette a warm welcome!

Come and meet us at the “Konference om nye Ledelsesprincipper” on the 29th of August

There is still time for you to sign up for the “Konference om nye Ledelsesprincipper” taking place on the 29th of August, where you can meet the I4L team and hear more about the project.

We are excited to meet you, tell you more about the project, and answer your questions.

Also, we still have few seats available for our upcoming workshop – but we recommend you to apply as soon as possible.

Filmography, Pygmalion, Trust, and Stereotyping in virtual teams

This article explains the impact of stereotyping and expectations we have of our employees, as well as how engaging personas can be used as a framework to increase productivity in virtual teams.

stereotyping in virtual teams

Why do we stereotype? And how does stereotyping affect trust and performance in (virtual) teams?

A stereotype is a “fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people”. (Cardwell, 1996). Stereotypes help us simplify our social world and it enables us to respond rapidly to situations, but a disadvantage according to McLeod (2015) is that it makes us not see the differences between individuals.

Our brains cannot deal with missing information – we will add what we are missing, from what we already know. And if what we already know is negative about a certain group of people, and we attach that to a recently met colleague, the trust will suffer as “you can never give a second first impression” is valid for virtual environments as well. (Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1998). Moreover, if what we already know about a group of people is not true about that particular person, productivity might suffer, as we will not be able to recognize the potential, and consequently motivate the team member to reach it.

Macrae and Bodenhausen (2001) discuss that at our encounter with a stranger, we tend to see the person as a stereotype, and not as a person that has a “unique constellation of characteristics”, and we tend to add the person to an already known category. Nielsen (2004) argues that the more material is presented to us, the less we need to draw on our previous experiences and encounters.

The effects of the stereotyping in (virtual) teams is two-folded. On the one hand, our expectations derived from our stereotyping end up becoming “self-fulfilling prophecies” explained via the well-known Pygmalion effect (Livingston, 2003). On the other hand, it can have an impact on our team members’ trust amongst each other. However, both factors have an impact on the team’s productivity.

Pygmalion effect and stereotyping

The Pygmalion effect has been widely researched by behavioral scientists, especially in school settings, and it is explained by Livingston, who coined the term Pygmalion, as: “The lucky child who strikes a teacher as bright also picks up on that expectation and will rise to fulfill it. This finding has been confirmed so many times, and in such varied settings, that it’s no longer even debated.” (2003)

The Pygmalion effect is valid in organizational settings as well: an experiment from 1961 on teams in organizational setting, explained in detail in this article in Harvard Business Review, concluded that the productivity of the team that was expected to perform well improved dramatically, while the productivity of the team who was considered as not having a chance to meet the quota, decreased dramatically. (Livingston, 2003)

The beliefs we have of others (either true or expected due to our stereotyping), will influence our communication with them. Livingston (2003) describes how managers are more effective in communicating their low expectations than they are at communicating their high expectations, even though we might believe differently. Passive behavior, indifference, and low frequency of communication could all be perceived as signs of the low expectations we have as leaders from our employees.

The risk we are running is having low expectations of certain groups of people due to stereotyping, and them lowering their performance to meet our expectations.

Trust and stereotyping

As discussed in a previous blog post, an important step in building trust is calculated trust, and a step in building calculated trust is the social introduction. Trust in virtual teams (and any types of teams) is important as from it derives the team’s motivation, which impacts team’s performance. (Zacarro and Bader, 2002)

Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1998) have discovered that a commonality amongst teams that start with low trust levels, is the lack of social introduction. We could conclude from here, that a poor or absent introduction of the team members could lead to stereotyping and low levels of trust.

Virtual teams and stereotyping

Stereotyping is true for teams that work together, but my hypothesis is that it is even more poignant in virtual teams. As layers of virtuality are added, we have less information about the persons we are interacting with: for example, we are not able to see their facial expressions or body language, which is crucial in interpreting sarcasm, humor, or irony. Research shows that: “In the absence of individuating cues about others, we build stereotypical impressions based on limited information.” (Lea and Spears 1992).

This made me wonder which “unique constellation of characteristics” do digital leaders need to encourage virtual team members to disclose about themselves in order to decrease the level of stereotyping and hence, increase the level of trust in virtual teams? Parallel, which information do leaders need to know about their employees in order to increase their expectations of their employees?

Engaging Persona

In I4L we have the honor to have Lene Nielsen as one of our team members – Lene has researched personas for over 15 years. When I told Lene what is my preoccupation in regards to stereotypes, she introduced me to the concepts of “rounded character” from filmography, and the concept of engaging personas.

In her Ph.D. (Nielsen, 2004), Lene has developed a model for engaging personas, based on various rounded character descriptions. The engaging personas model, inspired from rounded characters in filmography, was developed with the purpose of helping companies and designers understand their target audience better. The mechanism behind is to avoid “schematas”, which is the tendency to fill in the missing information with pre-learned models of the world – in other words, stereotyping.

I propose engaging personas as a model for digital leaders to introduce themselves and team members to each other.

According to Nielsen (2004), the characteristics of engaging personas, are:

  1. Body: “bodily expression and a posture, a gender and an age” (p. 155).
  2. Psyche: “the present state of mind, persistent self-perception, character traits, temper, abilities and attitudes” (p.155);
  3. Background: “present knowledge, job and family relations, and persistent beliefs, education, and internalized values and norms” (p.156);
  4. Emotions: “emotions, intentions, and attitudes including ambitions and frustrations, wishes and dreams” (p. 156);
  5. Cacophony: “character traits in opposition as well as peculiarities” (p.156).

The “engaging persona” characteristics can be used by leaders as a framework for the type of questions they could ask employees to present themselves, but also as a guidance for leaders on how to introduce themselves to the team and act as a role model, which is a critical behaviour for effective team leadership, according to Wade, Mention, and Jolly (1996).

The above framework can be used in the first (virtual) team meeting, or for introducing a new team member – be it a virtual conference call, audio or video, or a message that is written on the enterprise social media or online community wall.

The “Body” characteristic can be compensated for in a virtual setting with a profile picture and a requirement for every new team member to have a profile picture – paralleled, if possible, with a video or audio conference, where team members can be introduced to multiple physical dimensions of each other: seeing, hearing, reading facial expressions, vocal inflections, verbal cues, gestures and body language. These communication dynamics are one of the challenges that virtual teams face, according to Kayworth and Leidner (2015), and in many instances, our profile pictures are the only physical dimension we can convey about ourselves in virtual settings.

“Psyche” can be conveyed through discussing someone’s relation to the technology used in a project for example, or their beliefs and use of technology. For example, I could say about myself that I do use social media, although I have privacy concerns and have a deep belief that social media can be a waste of time and cause dependencies. This shows contradiction and the lack of settlement in my view of social media, as well as openness and skepticism simultaneously towards it.

The “Background” dimension is important for leaders to emphasize on when introducing new team members to each other, pointing out special abilities, courses, experiences or success that team members have achieved previously, and therefore setting the stage for having high expectations of them and of each other. As seen previously, our expectations of each other and of our employees have a direct influence on the team’s productivity. As Livingston (2003) formulates it: “How can you get the best out of our employees? Expect the best.”

Kayworth and Leidner (2015) point out that one’s background might be distorted by the high levels of anonymity that virtual settings allow for, as we can change our username or not fill in information about our job title, location or even choose to set ourselves as “invisible” to the team if we wish to. It is important for digital leaders to set the stage of how employees should fill in the information required in their online profiles used for collaboration, as well as establish standards for collaboration.

“Emotions” can be conveyed by expressing what we feel in relation to the task, project, colleagues or by how we talk about the same. If I say: “I am really excited to start working on the project” – I will convey a high energy and enthusiasm. Similarly, if I say: “Let’s hope we manage to pull the deadline”, I might unwillingly convey skepticism towards my team’s capability to meet deadlines, as well as apathy.

“Cacophony” is described in a guideline for writers by Rukov (2003) as 1+1+1, where 1+1 refer to two oppositional character traits, while the last 1 is a peculiarity. For example, I could say about myself that I consider the cake that we bring to our workplace as a replacement of the social cigarette of the past decade, but I will still accept an invitation to eat cake with my colleagues – this would represent the two oppositional character traits. A peculiarity is that I own 25 plants and counting.

In summary, stereotyping can lead to low levels of trust in virtual teams, as well as set the stage for expectations lower than our employees could raise up to, which will impact a team’s productivity levels. A way to combat stereotyping is making sure to introduce ourselves and our team member’s to each other in a way that doesn’t leave space for stereotyping. A way to do so, is borrowing the framework of building rounded characters from filmography, which can help us build engaging personas around ourselves and virtual team members and use collaborative software to its full potential to create our online profile. 



  1. Cardwell, M. (1996). Dictionary of Psychology. Chicago IL: Fitzroy Dearborn.
  2. McLeod, S. A. (2015). Stereotypes. Retrieved from
  3. Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1999). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Organization Science,10(6), 791-815. doi:10.1287/orsc.10.6.791
  4. Lea, M., & Spears, R. (1992). Paralanguage and social perception in computer-mediated communication. Journal of Organizational Computing, 2, 321-342.
  5. Timothy R. Kayworth, Dorothy E. Leidner (2002) Leadership Effectiveness in Global Virtual Teams, Journal of Management Information Systems, 18:3, 7-40, DOI: 10.1080/07421222.2002.11045697
  6. Livingston, S. (January, 2003). Pygmalion in Management. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved July 4, 2017, from
  7. Macrae, C. N. and Bodenhausen, G. V. (2001), Social cognition: Categorical person perception. British Journal of Psychology, 92: 239–255. doi:10.1348/000712601162059
  8. Nielsen, L. (2004). Engaging Personas and Narrative Scenarios(Doctoral dissertation, Copenhagen Business School).
  9. Rukov, M. (2003). “Persona workshop”. L. Nielsen. Copenhagen.
  10. Wade, D.; Mention, C.; and Jolly, J. Teams: Who Needs Them and Why? Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing, 1996
  11. Zaccaro, S. J., & Bader, P. (2003). E-Leadership and the Challenges of Leading E-Teams:. Organizational Dynamics, 31(4), 377-387. doi:10.1016/s0090-2616(02)00129-8

Trust, transactions, and dance in virtual teams.

This article is for digital leaders that want to understand how to build trust in virtual teams.

Trust, transactions, and dance


Research shows that trust is a very important factor in virtual teams’ motivation.  It can be defined as “the beliefs and expectations that members have of each other, that each member will live up to agreed-upon commitments, that each member is acting with good intentions on behalf of the group, and that each will work hard on behalf of the group.” (Zacarro and Bader, 2002)

Early research on trust and virtual teams suggested that trust is difficult to obtain in virtual teams due to that “trust needs touch” and face to face interactions. (Handy, 1995)

Berne (2015), the father of Transactional Analysis – discusses that the fundamental unit of social action is a “stroke” – which denotes an act of recognizing another’s presence.

If Anna says “Hello” and Claus replies with a “Hi!” they have exchanged two strokes. If Anna asks a question – hence one stroke – and Claus does not answer she will be puzzled. How many times will you say “Hello!” to someone who doesn’t respond?  And how likely is it, in such a case, that you will not trust a person who did not repay a stroke when they later want to build a relation to you?  You may rather want an explanation for their earlier behavior. Or, in Transactional Analysis vocabulary: you want your strokes back and possibly a few extra strokes to regain your trust.

It is important to note that exchanging strokes does not imply only verbal exchanges, it can also mean meeting expectations, keeping your word, smiling or waving back to someone, answering an email, liking someone’s update, giving feedback to employees coming forward with initiatives and ideas, compensate extra hours – anything through which you are “acknowledging someone’s presence”.

Relations, according to Berne, are built upon exchanges of strokes. In the context of psychological contracts “an individual’s belief about the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between the person and another party” (Robinson 1996). When we enter a work collaboration, we expect a set of conditions under which we will exchange our “strokes”, and our trust depends on whether our expectations are met or not.

Zacarro and Bader (2002) propose a three-stage framework for understanding and building trust in virtual teams:

  1. Calculated trust: when although we have no proof, we decide to trust the parties we collaborate with;
  2. Knowledge trust: emerges when team members have interacted for a while and know what to expect from one another;
  3. Identification trust: “emerges when team members come to agree on how the team as a whole should respond to challenges in their external environment through continued dialogue with each other.” The team is an entity they can identify with, and each can act as a representative of it when appropriate.

Digital leaders play a vital role in helping their (virtual) team’s trust move from calculated trust to the highest level of trust, which is identification based.

Now, I would like to step back from all the theory and invite you to dance. In order for us to dance, we would need a dancing floor, shoes, music, a dancing style, but what’s most important, we need a leader in our dance, otherwise, we would end up stepping on each other’s toes. I might be a good dancer, or I might be a bad one – at this point, you don’t know and, since you have accepted my invitation, your only chance is hoping for the best.

Similarly, when a new team is formed, the leader needs to define the roles that each team member will play, describe the tasks, introduce the team members to each other and to the technology they will be using, and assert the expectations. This newly formed space, which is explicitly introduced, is the basis for building calculated trust.

Next, I will explain the steps of the dance and the rules. I will guide and motivate you: if you make a correct step, I will encourage you to make more of those steps, and if you don’t, I will make sure to re-adapt my instructions to your understanding. At this stage, I will know which steps you are good at, and for which steps you need more practice, and I will also know how you react to success and failure – and so will the ones watching. This is knowledge-based trust, and as a digital leader, it is important to provide prompt feedback, establish standard operating procedures, make sure that the tasks are clear to each individual, and react fast (and in calm and positive manner) to when things don’t go in the desired direction.

When you are ready to take over and you know the steps well and you are confident, you can lead the dance and we can sign up for a dancing competition. At this stage, digital leaders have established a high trust team, where members can take the lead and responsibility for various tasks. It is important to maintain a spirit of common purpose and encourage team members to extend their exchanges to more socially-oriented and personalized exchanges.

Jarvenpaa and Leidner (1998) support the dance metaphor, as it can be seen in the figure below, emerged from their analysis on which behaviours facilitate and maintain trust in virtual teams, and which behaviours represent barriers, based on 12 virtual teams:


According to them, timely response is also important, as well as predictable communication, calm response to crises and positive leadership. Unpredictable communication, concerns about technical uncertainties, negative leadership and lack of enthusiasm have all been proved to represent barriers in building trust.

I’ve chosen the metaphor of a dance because it depicts best how the exchange of strokes should happen between a leader and team members: consistently and timely. In a dance, you can’t ignore a wrong step – it will affect the dance, while one good step after another will lead to a smooth dance. Similarly, if you react negatively to a wrong step, you will affect the mood of the dancer and chances are, they won’t want to dance with us again. It’s a good way to think of how to interact with our employees: timely, consistent, and positive, like in a dance.

Thank you for the dance!

In I4L, we don’t dance, but we disseminate research for practitioners and because we want to make research as memorable and entertaining as possible, sometimes we story tell. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter @i4l_dk.




  1. Berne, E. (2015). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: a systematic individual and social psychiatry. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing.
  2. Handy, C. (1995). Trust and the virtual organization. Harvard Business Review, 73(3), 40–50.
  3. Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (1999). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Organization Science,10(6), 791-815. doi:10.1287/orsc.10.6.791
  4. Robinson, S. L. (1996). Trust and Breach of the Psychological Contract. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41(4), 574. doi:10.2307/2393868
  5. Zaccaro, S. J., & Bader, P. (2003). E-Leadership and the Challenges of Leading E-Teams:. Organizational Dynamics, 31(4), 377-387. doi:10.1016/s0090-2616(02)00129-8



Call for participation: Digital Leadership & Communication

Are you a leader and do you want to make your business sustainable in the digital age? If yes, you can become part of the Innovation for Leadership (I4L) project at the IT University of Copenhagen (ITU). Participation is free for participants, as it is sponsored by The Danish Industry Foundation.

 As part of the I4L project, we invite Danish leaders to participate in one of the three workshops. In addition to the three workshops, researchers will be in continuous dialogue with workshop participants via an online community. The dialogue and the three workshops will form the basis of a closing conference and a final report.

  • Digital Leadership & Communication (8th of September, 2017)
  • Transformative Leadership & Disruptive Innovation (March, 2018)
  • Data-Driven Leadership & Analytics (September, 2018)

I4L’s first workshop

The first workshop “Digital Leadership and Communication” will take place at ITU on September 8, 2017.  Participants will be presented with tools and methods to enhance communication and management in a time, where interactions are increasingly shaped by technology.

Through inspirational presentations from experts, idea generation and group work, the first workshop will touch upon a variety of topics:

  • How to write as a digital leader?
  • How to stay in the know as a digital leader?
  • How to evaluate your personal knowledge infrastructure?
  • How to foster digital trust?
  • How to build a virtual team?
  • How to cope with technostress?
  • How to adapt to new power structures and hierarchies?

I4L participants are leaders who want to learn and implement new digital methods in their businesses. Applicants will be selected based on their motivation and the possibilities for carrying out their ideas subsequently. You can apply online here.