No matter how competent the individuals involved are, a virtual team will not perform at its true potential unless there is a core of trust between the players.
As a manager of a virtual team, you have a wonderful challenge in front of you: creating trust without relying on the face-to-face relationships that grow organically in a physical workplace.
This trust-building process is not always easy, and will require your excellent communication skills from the start. The good news is that taking the time to generate trust will lead to overwhelmingly positive results for you, your team, and the organisation.
Here are some hints and suggestions on creating a bond of trust within your virtual team.
- Make it personal. Get everyone’s photos on the wall to put faces to names- not corporate photos from the website, perhaps a facebook pic with family or doing something fun.
- Make sure everyone clearly understands the team, department and organisational goal and the importance of their role in reaching it. Do this through one-to-one Skype chats that are regularly followed up.
- Tackle the ‘trust’ issue head on. Host a conference meeting at the outset to actively discuss ideas on how to generate trust in this team. Ask for ideas- this will give individuals ‘ownership’ of a strategy and buy in for it to succeed. Remember, your team members have probably worked in remote teams before, and almost certainly have examples of when it’s worked and when it hasn’t; use this experience.
- Get everyone to offer up something about their work style that might affect trust- i.e. how they go about admitting they’ve made an error, fallen behind or need help. When someone discusses such a thing beforehand, it becomes easier to face it constructively.
- Get everyone on the phone, preferably on Skype or your company alternative, from the first day. Many people don’t like the phone – particularly with superiors-and will default to email wherever possible, so a few good chats at the beginning will remove the fear associated with picking up the phone.
- Have regular debriefings. Get team-members to offer the others some insight on how their part of the project is going, challenges it’s thrown up, and what they’ve learnt. This is a good way to generate knowledge-sharing and therefore trust.
- Encourage a bit of chit-chat about ‘nothing’. The ‘nothing’ is what binds people- the chatter about families, what they got up to on the weekend, the next holiday, a show on TV. Actively encourage non-work related conversation and start each meeting off with a non-work related question.
- Make sure that there is an up-to-date shared calendar of everyone’s working hours, with times blocked out- there is nothing more frustrating than waiting for an answer on a crucial project only to find out the person doesn’t work on Tuesdays and never received your urgent request. Same goes for encouraging team members to let others know when they won’t be available due to heavy project deadlines.
- Get back to people quickly – insist on a quick response ethos in your team- no-one wants to be kept waiting on a project, no-one likes chasing someone for answers and absolutely nobody likes being hit with a urgent pile of work on Friday lunchtime because communications were poor.
- Keep an eye out for key players ‘carrying’ the team? Notice who’s sending the most emails, submitting the most work and chasing up the loose ends. Intervene to make sure that everyone has a fair workload- or you’ll lose the trust of that key player.
Looking at this list, you quickly see that it all comes down to communication. If the lines of communication are open and have a real human dynamic to them that surpasses the work sphere, then you have an engaged and trusting team to work with towards success.
Until next time,