Can there be Trust In Virtual Teams?

Who doesn’t know the importance of trust is in the workplace? Okay, so maybe we don’t all get the significance of it, but that’s a topic for another article. Let’s assume trust is the most critical element of the workplace and, in particular, teams.

With huge demands, competition and the pace of technology, the need to collaborate has never been more urgent. Collaboration means coming together formally on a team, structurally defined for the purposes of the organization or, informally (ad hoc) to respond quickly and efficiently to time-sensitive goals.

In both cases, the ability for teams to work effectively hinges on the level of trust the members develop. We know from the work of Patrick Lencioni in his The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, without trust and commitment, results are hard to achieve.

It starts with all team members agreeing and knowing the critical elements of trust. Each must practice fairness, honesty, openness, exceptional listening skills, respect toward others’ expertise, and candor without being competitive or passive. This creates the space for members to be vulnerable, test out ideas, be creative and influence each other toward optimum results.

But what if your team is virtual? You’ve never, if ever, met your teammates in person and you all live in different locations and time zones. How easy would it be to build trust? Is it even possible?

The short answer is: it can be.

Recently working with leaders in a global communications company, I was struck by how highly they spoke of their teams and company culture. They were fully engaged in their work and committed to high quality results. This really surprised me as the majority of them worked virtually with team members thousands of miles away.

However, in another fast-paced global company the employee experience is far from being engaged and connected within the company let alone their teams.

I became curious. Why is it virtual employees in one company thrive while in another they’re stressed, disengaged and looking for the door?

A leader at a global IT firm knows all about success for virtual teams. When asking her if trust is possible for virtual teams, she emphatically answered, “ABSOLUTELY! !”

She cautioned, however, that for companies (large or small) wanting to move from ‘traditional face-to-face’ to a ‘virtual’ work environment, it’s a cultural shift that doesn’t happen overnight. Like any successful change, leadership needs to lead it and provide communication tools necessary to make virtual meetings and collaboration easy and effective.

But it doesn’t end there. The shift actually ignites when the culture of trust transfers from members of small teams to large teams and cross-functional teams they participate within.

These are key leadership behaviors that contribute to building trust in teams:

Essentials for Leaders of Small Teams:

  1. Establish Rapport by scheduling regular (weekly) 1:1’s, assigning work that capitalizes on members’ strengths and providing regular feedback.
  2. Focus intently by listening and actively engaging with your members. Never multi task during 1:1’s or team meetings as it demonstrates you don’t care and that erodes trust.
  3. Set Expectations that your team members show up to meetings prepared, on time, and ready to deliver quality work. Expect participants to activate their computer camera so you can see each other. Making personal connections often is key.
  4. Meet in Person by getting together twice or quarterly a year. It’s the casual as well as formal gatherings that solidify strong relationships.

Essentials for Large Teams:

  1. Build Rapport as above, with the added benefit of the smaller team’s culture and expectations cascading upward as reinforcement.
  2. Span of control for the leader of a large team allows for regular 1:1’s with the next level of leadership to set tone, culture and expectations.
  3. Skip Level 1:1’s several levels below your Direct Reports, scheduled quarterly, establishes relationships at multiple levels. Make sure all team members and employees feel a connection with you and that you care about their success.
  4. Be fully present to focus, actively listen and look to the camera; your team members know when you aren’t and that kills trust.

This is consistent with the findings of Niki Panteli, leader in Information Systems and researcher in trust: it’s the quality and consistency of content and frequency that’s necessary to foster trust in the virtual workplace.

Mutually negotiated and jointly constructed trust relationships are “situated”. As a member of a team, small or large, you too have a responsibility to be part of building the trust:

  1. Collaboratively create team rules – figure out together what’s most important to this team (hint: these may look different from team to team).
  2. Stick to team rules as it aligns with or, despite the culture of the company or leadership behavior.
  3. Hold each other accountable and call out the team when it gets off track.
  4. Embrace each member’s high value and expertise.
  5. Have fun! Work is work, but infusing  time together with a lighthearted personal approach can go a long way to reinforcing trust.

Working from home, I’m keenly aware I’m not my own island. As the future of work continues to be more diffused, so does the need for virtual workers like me, and teams and companies that build foundations of trust. Without it, results can never be guaranteed.

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your experience working virtually with a team.

Your Silver Rule – Responsibility

We all know the golden rule, right? But do you know the Silver Rule?

I’ve written about responsibility before. How critical it is for each of us to take responsibility for our own career. Makes sense, right?

But what about responsibility for your self? I’m not talking about family, children, partner, close friends, bills etc. I’m talking your very own life. The one held together by your beautiful body and your mind that seeks to understand.

Since the dawn of time we women have borne responsibility for the health, safety and well being of others. Naturally we are wired to support and give first.

So who’s being responsible for you? And who should be responsible? Of course the answer is obvious – YOU.

But are you really taking it?

Last night at a professional meet-up, women were lamenting the trouble they have fitting in time for fitness, ridding extra Christmas season pounds and reading a good book. I noticed the husband/partner in their stories would come up as if somehow they’re responsible for these laments. And while the “guilt” word wasn’t spoken, how people spoke their stories was laced with tinges of shame – as if putting oneself first isn’t okay.

A small light bulb flashed in my mind (only small because there were no major
ah-a’s or solution discovered). I blurted out the question, “why is it that we as women give our energy to being responsible for others without being responsible and accountable to ourselves FIRST?”

Now I know I’m not the first person to think about this let alone talk about it, but I believe it bares bringing up yet again. This repeating pattern in each of us, as well as the long line of females before us, just seems so darn ironic.

What if we flipped this idea over, shook it up and tried looking at it from a different perspective?

What if this new perspective means starting from the place of your own personal responsibility and accountability? How might your world be different?

Let me tell you how it is for me. You may know I left my senior position with a large organization a couple of years ago. That was catalytic in forcing me to take charge of me. No one else could figure out what my next step would be. No one else could make me get up and dressed each morning that long winter. And no one else could peace.

The result was a brand new feeling of openness. I was ready to move ahead – my way. Fast-forward to last fall when I started feeling I just wasn’t my best; a few extra pounds, a few more glasses of wine, and a few too many sweets (I’m not perfect either). I know if I’m to take my business to the next level in 2016, I’ve got to take full responsibility for making some changes – changes that would open up space and energy to reach my goals.

The whole idea of making certain changes was scary and I felt a tad guilty for making it all about me (my ever-supporting family was waiting for the plank to hit my head once again). But, and here’s the big but, if I’m to serve others to the best of my ability then I must take 100% responsibility for putting myself first!

Hallelujah!

I threw out the sugar, poured out the wine and deep sixed the grains. To make it even easier, I reflected back on what it took for me to rise up from the ashes of gloom following my job loss. I knew from that experience the only way I would be successful in every way is to step up and own my life. And this means saying my mantra everyday “I have everything I need inside me. I am responsible”.

Ok, so I know this is all pretty revealing stuff. But I’m open to telling you because from one woman to another, life is so much better when we learn once and for all to take responsibility for ourselves with compassion and joy – unfettered by guilt.

Just like me, you owe it to yourself and those around you to make yourself THE priority. Be it heading to the gym, daily meditation, weekly massages, or just saying no to the barrage of requests for your time, the responsibility is yours and yours alone.

Sure, you may have to boldly ask your partner or family member to take over one of “your” chores or drop your kids off with grandparents. But that’s okay. In fact it’s more than okay. How can you possibly be the best version of yourself for everyone else if you don’t get your own needs met (kind of like when the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on before putting one on your child)?

Just like me, I know for certain you can do this. So open the window and shoo away the guilt once and for all. I give you permission.

(But hey, responsibility is just the first step. Next up is accountability and staying with the changes you’ll make!)

Start by asking, “Am I living the Silver Rule?