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.

Picky is Actually Strategic when it comes to social media

How many of us find ourselves being picky about who we date or spend a weekend with? I bet most of us. So why is it we aren’t picky about who we connect with via email and social media – especially when it comes to business?

I recently posted a tweet about Twitter being the airport lounge of B2B. Got tons of hearts on that one. I also wrote a blog about the new noise causing stress – social media and the barrage of emails from people selling us things. I get it. Social media has become the grand master for small business marketing. It’s super cheap, highly accessible and can be done in 10 words or less. Sounds great!

The problem is that entrepreneurs cast their nets so widely I feel like I have to duck and dive with all the free offers and promotions. The other problem is the majority of entrepreneurs/on-line businesses all sound the same. (Believe me – I’m not saying I’m an exception.)

How is it possible to figure out who’s who in the zoo? Let alone if what they offer is of any real value. It’s the Wild West out there and anyone can hang a shingle and call themselves a coach or strategist. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. And maybe social proof isn’t – well just isn’t credible anymore?

For me, the amount of time I’ve used up trying to keep up with everyone online is taking a huge toll on my business and stress level.

So I’ve decided I don’t have to follow the lemmings. I can be picky. In fact, I’ve decided that being picky is actually strategic when it comes to social media.

Let me explain.

I’m shaking up my approach to inviting people into my world.

Before I subscribe to your site I check out who you are, including credentials. Do you give any deets on your FB page about your biz, education or past employment? Is your LinkedIn bio up to date and factual or is it stuffed full of filler? And how and what do you say in your tweets? I’m not a fan of constant profanity or meanness so if that’s your game, chances are you aren’t making it in my door.

Over the next few months I’ll weigh out if the value you offer me is worth the follow. A big name doesn’t always equate to a follow. I’ve unsubscribed to even the biggest names in the biz. They may be amazing but they aren’t for me.

And speaking of value, I’m looking for sites and people who challenge the status quo to help me stretch my thinking or who offer up well thought out systems for my business. Most of all, I want to surround myself with people who authentically want to make the world a better place.

By now you may be saying to yourself, “she doesn’t get it”. Social media is ALL about connecting, sharing information and staying on the pulse of culture. Here’s where I diverge. I’m in business and I admittedly use social media for the cheap marketing. BUT, here’s the difference, like any shop or service business owner, I want to work with a specific clientele and there are people who want to work with someone like me. So, like my clients, I want to be picky in whom I serve.

And guess what? Given this is business, being picky is strategic. If I’m not strategic on where and with whom I spend my scarce time, I won’t be giving my clients what they deserve.

I’m all about quality. If I follow you, I’ll spread your love. If I work with you, I’ll spread your love. Which may be odd considering that on-line business seems to be all about quantity (or am I missing something?).

It makes me wonder if we’ll hit a saturation point in this Wild West? In the meantime, I’m more than happy if you use a similar strategy when adding me to your community.

Are you being strategic in your business?