How can I foster trust in a virtual team?

What can you do as a manager to foster trust?

bernard-hermant-541485-unsplashHow can you build and foster trust in a virtual team? In my opinion it is very hard to build trust if you are working 100% from a distance. If we have a new virtual team to manage, I always go spend a couple of weeks with them just to get to know them, and build up a relationship. You can’t build trust over a week. It takes a while. The most important thing to foster trust according to me is to set clear goals, encourage straight talk and clarity. But it is also important to take the time for informal one-on-one interactions, acknowledging somebody in public, celebrating birthdays, … Another thing that is very important when it comes to building trust, is empowerment! People have to feel empowered, and trusted. Our various offices have a large amount of freedom when it comes to, for example, spending their office budget. We are sending them guidelines, but it’s up to them on how they spend it. People don’t thrive in a team when they feel like they are treated like a child.


Make Use of Swift Trust

In the beginning, you will experience “swift trust” with your team: they will give each other the benefit of the doubt, and they still have this feeling of “we’re in the same boat together”. But this is a fragile kind of trust and temporary. So make sure you get the most out of this “honeymoon” type of trust:

  1. Make the competences of each team member explicit in the team.
  2. Specify clear goals that everyone understands from the very beginning.

Foster Interpersonal Trust

Pro-actively encourage your team members to share non-work related information by doing a “take 5” before every meeting, using “fun” social media channels, … Managers often have the wrong impression that people are mainly interested in what their fellow team members can do. That’s not the case! Research shows that we are in general looking for personal details (hobbies, other outside interests, …) that are similar to us! We are always on the lookout for things we have in common with our virtual team members, in order to build mutual trust.

Rules Reduce Uncertainty

When working together virtually, a powerful set of collaboration rules reduces uncertainty and enhances trust in distributed teams! These are the rules research suggests you give a try:

  1. Communicate frequently.
  2. Organize doing substantive work simultaneously.
  3. Overtly acknowledge that you have read one another’s messages.
  4. Be explicit about what you are thinking and doing.
  5. Set deadlines and stick to them.

Focus On What They Create

Build mutual trust by accomplishing results with your team! Manage them on output, not input. Install a meeting (inspired on the scrum-method) on a daily/weekly basis with your virtual team. Ask them to share:

  1. What did you work on today/this week?
  2. Did you get stuck with somehthing?
  3. What are your questions for the team?

Resources to Help You Build Trust

  1. Pivotcast: Trust from Pivot Leadership / Korn Ferry on Vimeo.
  2. The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast
  3. Management Café Podcast

Good luck with those new habits! The CUTESolutions Team

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Vanfleteren says:

    Interesting article ! But what is a ‘take5’ ?

    1. Cutesolutions says:

      Hi Tom! Thanks for leaving us a comment. 🙂 With “take 5” we mean take 5 minutes before every meeting to talk about trivial things and fun. Don’t start the meeting straight away with the more “serious” stuff. E.g. Tell something funny that happened so people get to know you better. Ask your virtual team members something (e.g. how is your dog doing?). Take 5 minutes before every meeting to build trust and get to know each other better. Virtual meetings are an opportunity for people who don’t see each other often to create a connection. Good luck with those new habits!

  2. Tom Vanfleteren says:

    Thanks for the clarification – clear now ! By the way, not only key/important for ‘virtual teams’ I believe as well in real teams as I believe you should not take it for granted that such informal/fun sharing moments happen by itself in teams. Stimulating this in team meetings is needed to create that bounding & related trust between team members.

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