The Journal for the Association for Information Science and Technology reports that, “despite the benefits associated with virtual teams, many people on these teams are unsatisfied with their experience.” One root cause of dissatisfaction is low trust. In today’s world, nearly everyone, at some level, is working from a virtual location. This can range from virtual training for your job to a 100% virtual environment.
It’s critical to remember that building an effective team takes time and energy. Here are 4 things you can do to get it right.
1. The Virtual Work Environment is NOT an Excuse
In 1971, Albert Mehrabian published Silent Messages. The book implies that the message itself accounts for 7% of communication, while body language, intonation, etc. comprise 93% of the communication equation. People latch on to these numbers and use them to explain why virtual work relationships suffer.
Here are two reasons not to let these numbers trip you up.
First, many have challenged Mehrabian’s work, the conclusions drawn, and the general applicability of his findings to situations beyond those covered in the study.
Second, whether nonverbal body language accounts for 25%, 50%, or 75% of the communication exchange, does not really matter. The bottom line is that to have a strong working relationship, you need to build trust.
When trust is low, everything takes longer and costs more.
Don’t believe him?
Think about a person you have a low trust relationship and one with whom you have a high trust relationship.
What’s the difference?
Whether your team is virtual or not, you can’t afford to have a low trust environment. Start by considering your mindset. Embrace the mentality that a virtual work environment is NOT an excuse for low trust.
2. Trust Starts with You
Stephen M.R. Covey identifies five waves of trust. The first wave, Self Trust, begins with you. This is where you work to be a trust worthy person. It involves your integrity, intentions, behaviors, and results.
Gaining trust takes a bit of vulnerability. You have to put yourself out there and share your intentions. Doing so on the phone, can be tough as you cannot see the reaction of others.
The silence that sometimes follows a declaration of intent can be deafening, but become comfortable with it. The other person may just be processing what you are saying.
Here are some situations and sample language to get you started:
When you enter a difficult conversation, declare your intent. Say something like, “I know that we have some tough issues to talk through, but I want everyone to understand that my number one intention is to….”
When you write a note to team members addressing a tough topic, declare your intent. Write something like, “Email is an imperfect tool. Since you can’t see the person talking or hear his or her tone, things can come across as harsh or confusing. So, before I go any further, let me share my intention with you…”
When you are launching a new team or trying to enhance an existing one, declare your intent. Say something like “I know that working virtually can be a challenge to building trust. Since we will connect via phone and email, which can be even less forgiving, I wanted you to know that my intent is to improve our relationship and ask that you help me to do so…”
I have found that many communication breakdowns stem from a lack of shared expectations. Getting expectations right, starts with declaring your intent AND allowing others to do the same.
3. Behavior Matters
You don’t have to be in a room together to deliver results, clarify expectations, or practice accountability.
Getting better doesn’t require you be co-located with your colleagues. It requires you to work hard, learn, share information, and encourage growth.
Listening first can be accomplished on phone or in person. Someone can’t see your head nodding in an email, but you can certainly restate what you believe your colleague said and ask her to confirm or correct.
4. Virtual Teams Must Be Deliberately Developed
Building an effective team takes time, energy, and attention. Many virtual teams fail to pay the price to grow as a team. Research suggests that 65% of remote employees have never had a team building session.
Don’t fall into this trap.
Forging deep relationships takes shared experiences. Look for ways to conduct team-building exercises, perform role plays, share information, and problem-solve virtually. Ensure that the team has shared goals and are playing together to win.
Download a free PDF tool that’s perfect for printing, posting and sharing. Use it to remind yourself of the 4 behaviors outlined in this post or share with your virtual team to start a trust building conversation.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.