No Trust = No Team

by Jim Citrin Influencer

Here is the Formula for Building Cohesive Relationships Virtually

Our research on virtual collaboration has found that top-performing virtual teams report higher levels of trust than teams that are less successful. Trust is a foundational ingredient and precondition for their success.

But building trust, which can always be challenging, is especially difficult in a virtual world. Whereas co-located teams have an ongoing series of interactions, virtual teams must rely heavily on task-based trust, which is the belief that team members will do their job. This doesn’t happen automatically, but develops when virtual team members are responsive, follow through on commitments, and take responsibility for results.  

What are the warning signs of low trust among virtual teams?

  • Team members not referring to themselves as “we;” focusing instead on their personal needs and agendas. 
  • Every conversation is strictly business. Intimacy is one of the essential elements for building trust, and it requires more effort when working from a distance.  
  • Silos developing among sub-groups.  
  • Conflicts not being resolved; unresolved conflicts cause lingering resentment or even hostility. 
  • Playing the blame game. If no one takes accountability or is held accountable for their actions, it is a sure sign your team suffers from a lack of trust.  

How can these be rectified and trust be built in virtual teams?

As a leader, here are tips for enhancing trust in virtual teams: 

  • Provide opportunities to build relationships. If possible and can be done within safety protocols, new virtual teams should meet face-to-face at least once within the first few months; or in a smaller outdoor setting.
  • Offer professional networking opportunities for team members to share their capabilities. Hosting lunch and learn sessions where team members take turns presenting on a topic where they have expertise can improve their credibility, make others more likely to consult them when they need help. These don’t have to be on topics related to the business. One team had a monthly Zoom session on “sharing your unknown talent.” After a colleague gave a detailed presentation on gemology, his stature skyrocketed within group.
  • Speak the truth. Respond to questions in honest, complete manner to deliver clarity and transparency. Be balanced – communicate the positive aspects as well as the downsides – when making a proposal.
  • Highlight successes. A proven track record of success is one of the best indicators of credibility. Encourage team members to share their wins through email, during meetings, or social media pages when appropriate. One highly distributed team created a punchy, well-designed weekly news roundup of the extended team’s wins. Rather than just list success stories, they put them in the context of external market developments, and always did so with the engaging lines, “What you need to know,” and “Why it matters.”
  • Encourage and role-model transparency. Emphasize the importance and show the power of being open and honest. Invite team members to regularly share their challenges as well as their successes. Lead by example to give permission to others to do the same. 
  • Admit when you don’t know something. Few things are a bigger turn off than a know-it-all. Rather than pretending to know everything. Virtual leaders should set an example by being vulnerable, genuinely soliciting the input of others, and always admitting, even advertising, what they don’t know.  

Building trust within a virtual team takes time and focus, but it is worth the effort. In a study of 600 virtual team members, 81% reported that building rapport and trust was the greatest personal challenge they faced. So rather than no trust = no team, go for trust = team!