Some of the best and worst virtual teams I have encountered could be classified by the levels of trust between team members. Those with high levels of implicit and explicit trust have typically been the most effective and efficient, those with broken trust between the members have typically been some of the least effective. While trust in and of its self is not the only factor influencing the outcome of any virtual team, it is certainly one which merits particular attention from the management and members of the team. So, just how does trust within virtual teams contribute to the operation of the endeavour?
When taking a retrospective view of teams, as we often do, it can be easy to see the make and break points, places in the timeline of the team where either things went well and grew from there, or where they went wrong, even for just a short time, and resulted in what would later be seen as irreparable damage to the relationship with its resulting breakdown in efficiency and ability to deliver as envisaged.
Often these points can be attributed to specific actions or reactions of the individuals involved; one party says something in a teleconference that the other takes offence to, whether the statement made was intended as offensive or not, and rather than resolve the perceived offense there and then, or at least shortly thereafter, it is allowed, or in extreme cases even used as a way, to break a relationship. Once that relationship is broken, it can take a lot of focused effort and potentially changing of personnel within each location to rebuild.
Alternately, one office fails to deliver a piece of work on time or to the expected quality of the other office, without giving the other office due warning of any issues in delivery. Had warning been given in a timely way, the receiving office may feel they would have had the opportunity to help or plan an alternate delivery strategy. Instead, they are left with an unpleasant surprise, and the feeling that they have been let down, which may mean they will be reluctant to use the office that they believe let them down for future work.
When Trust Is Lost
In both of the above, and in so many other examples, the result is a breakdown of the trust between the offices that results in loss of efficiency and potentially losses in the ability of the organisation to effectively share work between offices in a way that is beneficial to both the company and its clients and employees.
Assume Good Intent
One way I have found that is effective in mitigating at least some of the typical causes of these trust breakdowns, is for all parties involved to start out assuming that all of the other parties are trying to do the right thing. That what seems to be a let down or an insult may, in fact, have been a genuine mistake, a misunderstanding or a miscommunication from someone working in a language not their first or into a culture which sets different expectations on its members to their own. Even once the issue has arisen and is being analysed, it is still best to assume that all parties only had the best interests of the others at heart and did not intend to cause any issues.
All of this of course can be hard to accept in the heat of the moment, we all have instant reactions to things, but a cooling off period before reacting back to the other party is always called for and in some cases spending a little time talking things through with a trusted mentor, manager, friend or coach can help restore perspective to the situation and start to restore some of the damaged trust.
Coaching of members of virtual teams requires experience and situational awareness and is one of the services offered by Ulfire, please feel free to contact us using the details provided should you wish to discuss any issues you may be experiencing.
Share your experiences
Do you have any experiences with building and maintaining trust in project virtual teams you have been a part of that you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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