“Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” – Frank Sonnenberg
Critical to the health of a team and its performance, is the ability of each team member to collaborate and a vital component of effective collaboration is a foundation of trust.
Within a collated team, the natural forces arising from being physically together, pull the team together. Those conversations at the beginning of the day while making a coffee, ad hoc discussions over lunch, a quick drink after work, all build personal connections and understanding. Going virtually, without these natural forces connecting people, any weaknesses or fault lines will unforgivingly be sought out and there has to be the deliberate allocation of time for the kind of meaningful encounters that lead to trusting relationships.
Let’s consider Marion who has recently joined a project team whose members are geographically dispersed. They have never met face-to-face and because video conferencing technology is not available to the whole team, they only communicate via telephone, email and teleconferencing. Marion is aware that one of the greatest challenges for any virtual team is establishing rapport and trust.
The current diagnosis of Marion’s team will flag trust as a challenge and there are five (5) key symptoms that might be evident and impacting on the culture of this project team.
- Low level of credibility
Do the team members have confidence in one another that they have the required skill level to complete the project? Does Marion know the right person to go to when she needs advice? Understanding the roles and skills of each team member builds trust in the capability of the team to deliver on the project outcomes. A summary of skills and experience of each team member will help build credibility for Marion.
- Reliability not yet established
This is the component of trust that requires multiple experiences to establish. Reliable and consistent behaviour allows the team to anticipate what will happen in the future. Over time, by Marion and the team performing responsibly, by doing what they say they will do, and by when, trust will be solidified.
- Absence of familiarity
The need for affiliation is essential and can overcome social isolation, alienation and disconnection. We believe in people that we know something about. It is important that there is opportunity for Marion and the team to be able to reveal something about themselves. This may be chatting over a ‘virtual lunch’ or providing insights about themselves through filling out a ‘fact’ sheet. Marion and her team members might share photos of themselves to have by their phones to use when they are on conference calls.
- Availability not established
There may be part-time workers within the team and possibly members in different time zones. It is important that Marion will know when members are available and when meetings can be scheduled. Agreement is important on when meetings can be arranged and when team members can be contacted. Critical to building trust is to agree that team members will not be ‘off the grid’ without warning.
- Low level of self-orientation
How often do we admit to multi-tasking when on a teleconference call? When the microphone is on mute it’s so easy to write and respond to emails. Do we recognise that we are not being fully present and giving our colleagues our full attention – and what does it say about the respect we are affording?
Establishing agreed Ways of Working to address these symptoms will support Marion and the team in building the trust which is essential to social contracting. It is the consistent, positive and respectful interactions that leads to a strong bond of trust that unites a team and according to Stephen Covey, “when the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant and effective”.
As with blood pressure, although silent, the monitoring and maintenance of a healthy level of trust is critical to the effective functioning of Marion’s team.
For more information on enhancing virtual team performance contact TMS on firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone us on (07) 3003 1473.