The impact of language barriers on trust formation in multinational teams

Helene Tenzer*, Markus Pudelko, Anne-Wil Harzing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

221 Citations (Scopus)


This study systematically investigates how language barriers influence trust formation in multinational teams (MNTs). On the basis of 90 interviews with team members, team leaders and senior managers in 15 MNTs in 3 German automotive corporations, the authors show how MNT members’ cognitive and emotional reactions to language barriers influence their perceived trustworthiness and intention to trust, which in turn affect trust formation. The authors contribute to diversity research by distinguishing the exclusively negative language effects from the more ambivalent effects of other diversity dimensions. Their findings also illustrate how surface-level language diversity may create perceptions of deep-level diversity. Furthermore, their study advances MNT research by revealing the specific influences of language barriers on team trust, an important mediator between team inputs and performance outcomes. It thereby encourages the examination of other team processes through a language lens. Finally, their study suggests that multilingual settings necessitate a reexamination and modification of the seminal trust theories by Mayer, Davis and Schoorman, and by McAllister. In terms of practical implications, the authors outline how MNT leaders can manage their subordinates’ problematic reactions to language barriers, and how MNT members can enhance their perceived trustworthiness in multilingual settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-535
JournalJournal of International Business Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • interpersonal trust
  • language
  • multinational teams
  • cognition
  • emotion


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