No Trust, No Team: Building Trust in a Virtual Setting

OnPoint Consulting’s global study on virtual collaboration found that top performing virtual teams reported higher levels of trust than teams that were less successful, which means that trust is an essential ingredient for virtual team success. 

Despite the importance of trust to virtual collaboration it can take much longer to build trust when working from a distance because team members rarely see one another and, quite often, have never met in person.

While we typically rely on interpersonal trust, which is based on personal relationships, virtual teams must rely more heavily on task-based trust, which is the belief that team members will do their job.  Of course, task-based trust doesn’t happen on its own.  It has to be developed and that occurs when virtual team members are responsive, follow through on commitments, and take responsibility for results. 

The following warning signs to look for to determine whether your virtual team suffers from low levels of trust:

  • Team members do not refer to themselves as “we”
  • Silos develop among sub-groups
  • Lack of information sharing
  • Micromanagement by the team leader or team members
  • Conflicts are not resolved
  • Team members are openly negative
  • Team members do not regard the commitments of others as credible
  • Low levels of productivity or missed deadlines

So, what can virtual leaders do to build trust?  The following guidelines are a good foundation for success:

  • Encourage team members to communicate openly and honestly, model positive behaviors, implement a communication plan for team interactions, and ensure you are accessible and responsive
  • Leverage online tools such as videoconferencing, Web-based video, instant messaging, and Facebook-like Web pages with personal profiles and pictures so that team members can become acquainted and learn about each other’s backgrounds and experiences
  • Meet face-to-face at least once early on in the team’s formation or use a series of virtual meetings to build relationships and establish credibility
  • Encourage spontaneous and informal interaction among team members
  • Empower team members to make and act on decisions
  • Help people manage conflicts
  • Partner team members at different locations and rotate these over time

As virtual teamwork becomes more prevalent, organizations need to take a close look at how they can best ensure the success of these teams. To maximize their return on investment, organizations should ensure that high levels of trust are in place and continually assess the performance of their virtual teams over time.


This blog was originally posted on Rick's blog, On Leadership

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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