10 Tips For Creating an Environment of Trust in Your Virtual Team

My primary working environment is with virtual teams today and periodic face to face meetings. Many of these ideas are applicable with all your teams even if not virtual. For the last 10 years I have worked in a virtual environment. There are many advantages and also challenges that is creates. Technology has evolved as well and become far more useful. As the experts say, communication is primarily body language, tone of voice and lastly what words you say. This is ironic is technology advances and for most companies today they are not using video technology which would enable the use of communication with body language, tone of voice and language. The most common is the use of telephone and a file sharing programs that you can write, draw, show files, programs to the others on the program. There are so many factors that contribute to establishing trust and you can view some of my other posts for more info. Here are some highlights from typical strategies I have begun to focus on more with the team.

1. Build the self-esteem of team members by showing respect for their
opinions. You can ask questions (even if you know), ask others to update with info on specific areas so they are engaged, schedule presenters to share info relevant to the team.

2. Help team members focus on the problem rather than blaming each
other. Project team meetings are not the place for blame game but a place to have the reality candidly presented so you can leverage the team brainstorming, solutions development cross-functionally. If there is an issue requiring corrective actions, take it up in the right time with the individual and their manager directly.

3. Familiarize the team with why trust is important and will impact the success of the project and how external view of the project is perceived. You can do this by taking time for introductions, sharing personal information. Another way is to bring up typical examples of issues and how you would like the team to address them.

4. If possible, meet face-to-face early in the development of your team for a kickoff meeting. By investing the travel and time early in the process you can properly establish and agree on operating framework, establish personal relationships that will carry through project, share a meal and the connecting time that is tough to replicate virtually. Miscommunication and conflicting expectations often arise early in the project. Face-to-face meetings will allow team members to develop relationships and trust much more quickly.

5. Set up time with leads in different areas to learn more about details in their area of expertise. This can be done on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and can be an excellent way to build a strong foundation. It will allow them to get to know you more, open communication and build your expertise for later in project to better assess risks.

6. Do what you say you will do. One of the quickest and most effective ways to build trust is to follow through on your commitments every time or reset expectations if when something comes up. Team members are more likely to trust one another if they feel team members are competent. Stand behind your team and your team members. Do not make disparaging remarks about the team’s performance in public. If you receive negative information about a team member, be sure to investigate it thoroughly before making decision on what you will do with the information.

7. Try to give each team member the opportunity to contribute. Don’t rely more heavily on those team members who happen to be in your location or time zone. Rotate through meetings, the time you spend on each topic. If you can’t cover everything in one meeting, rotate presenters so each one has time to present info, accomplishments, issues and action plans.

8. Be aware of time of day for attendees on the call. Work to make meetings engaging so you can keep energy, interest and attention on the call up. Ask people to close instant messenger tools, email so they can focus on the meeting. Find ways to amplify the energy during the call. Find items that are “hot news” to share, change bulletins sent out, make a big deal of accomplishments.

9. Create a system for project info. It can be fun to start with team brainstorming a name and logo for the project. This can then be a sense of identity, branding for the team through course of project and logo used on all project documents. Select tools carefully that will document sharing, archiving, backup systems associated to project documents, work product produced so that it can be accessed easily. Also, you can use online collaboration, project planning tools or a simple to do list shared out depending on how many people are in your team.

10. Plan, Plan, Plan. In a virtual environment it is even more important to be prepared in advance with technology, agenda, right participants to be in the meeting. Test in advance and know how to effectively use the technology. Had extra items to cover if you end early and prioritize so you don’t run out of time to handle the hot topics. If you struggle with time keeping, ask for help and give someone else the job to ensure you stay on track. It prevents frustration by the team and maximizes payoff for time in meeting. As a reminder, just calculate the cost of your meeting whether with your employees, peers, senior management and vendors and you quickly realize that its highly expensive so be deliberate about scheduling meetings.

Bonus tip: Another key operating guideline is “speed of action”, this means how quickly do people responds, what is expectation and creating a culture of urgency and quick action within the team. If you start this early, than not only can you make things happen faster but some of the time in people’s to do lists and inbox is quickly reduced.

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