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20 Leadership Trust Builders for Virtual Work

Trust, especially in the context of a virtual work environment, is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of a team member or a group. This trust creates an environment characterised by transparency, honesty, and open behaviourIt is vital in virtual workspaces where the geographical distance can pose a challenge to building relationships and understanding individuals’ abilities.  Trust stems from leadership values and behaviours, which can wildly influence the team‘s ability to develop into a trusting team culture.

Trust is crucial for the functioning of virtual teams and organisations. Low trust levels lead to a negative impact on energy, commitment, productivity, problem-solving, and idea generation. There is decreased participation and involvement, often stemming from a need to minimize vulnerability and risk.

Without trust, people are less likely to accept help or advice, leading to a reduction in knowledge sharing and learning. Information might not be shared openly and honestly, instead held, protected, and therefore more difficult to acquire.

Moreover, distrust creates uncertainty and anxiety about others’ motives, resulting in a stressful environment. This lack of trust often causes communication barriers, leading to a lack of cohesion and teamwork. It is common for people to cross-check information, spending unnecessary time and effort due to a lack of trust.

What Types of Trust Are There?

Several types of trust can exist within the work environment. Each type evolves differently in conventional and virtual settings. Some key types of trust include:

  1. Systems Trust: Confidence in a company’s practices, rules, regulations, and processes.
  2. Deterrence-Based Trust: Trust that stems from fear of punishment or negative consequences.
  3. Knowledge Trust: Trust built on previous knowledge and experience of another person.
  4. Contractual Trust: Trust in an individual’s attributes such as honesty, consistency, and fairness.
  5. Personal Trust: Trust in another person or people in a specific situation.
  6. Interpersonal Trust: When two or more people or groups trust each other in a specific situation.
  7. Competence Trust: Trust in an individual’s abilities to complete work tasks, built on repetition and work delivery.
  8. Task Trust (or Ability Trust): Trust built through reliability, consistency, and responsiveness.
  9. Swift Trust: Trust established at the outset following first interactions.

In virtual work, trust initially evolves from a task-focused perspective. Team members build trust through displays of competency, reliability, and responsiveness, as well as because they are required to function as a team.

20 Leadership Trust Builders for Virtual Work

  1. Supportive Leadership: Actively promote trust-building activities within the team and create a cohesive team culture. Celebrate successes, help others, negotiate differences, and prevent problems.
  2. Shared Understanding: Develop a shared understanding of team goals, objectives, capacities, and plans. Understanding each team member’s expertise strengthens trust and ensures strategic alignment.
  3. Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities: Avoid ambiguity by clearly defining, agreeing to, and committing to team roles and responsibilities.
  4. Clear Processes and Procedures: Establish and agree on simple and effective ways of working within and outside the team. This includes arrangements around meetings, planning, problem-solving, and decision-making.
  5. Behavioural Contracting: Specify accepted group behaviours at the onset, providing a structure for team trust. See my previous article on behavioural contracting here.
  6. Creation of Social Time and Space: Promote interactions around socializing and shared experiences to grow and strengthen virtual relationships.
  7. Correct Use of Tools and Technology: Leverage online tools such as videoconferencing for communication and interaction, and platforms like SharePoint for information sharing.
  8. Kick-off Meeting: Hold an initial meeting, either virtually or in-person, to discuss and commit to trust-building factors.
  9. Promote Team Orientation: Develop individuals into a coherent and integrated work unit, promoting a common goal and shaping perceptions.
  10. Engage in Participative Leadership: Involve team members in decisions that affect them, which increases the quality of the team’s decision-making.
  11. Foster an Atmosphere of Collaboration: Infuse team spirit and trust into the team to boost productivity and cooperation.
  12. Communicate Goals and Direction: Articulate goals and direction clearly to ensure a shared vision, revisiting these factors periodically to reinforce their importance.
  13. Develop Strong Interpersonal Communication Skills: Establish informal and formal communication methods and provide clear feedback despite distance.
  14. Master Tools and Technology: Use communication and collaboration tools effectively to ensure that people have the necessary information and feel connected.
  15. Empower Team Members: Delegate work, give team members autonomy in making decisions, and balance trust and control.
  16. Monitor Tasks: Set up processes for monitoring progress and follow up frequently, but avoid micromanagement.
  17. Be Open Toward Different Cultures: Be aware of different communication styles and ways of working, especially in international teams.
  18. Handle Change Effectively: Lead teams through change and transitions skillfully, maintaining high levels of enthusiasm and commitment.
  19. Celebrate Successes: Recognise individual and team accomplishments to build a sense of shared success and trust.
  20. Provide Continuous Learning Opportunities: Promote learning and skill development to enhance confidence and trust within the team.

Building trust in virtual teams is a challenging yet vital aspect of successful leadership. Employing these trust builders can ensure the establishment of predictable behaviours, reduce potential insecurities generated by uncertainty, and create a more productive and trusting virtual work environment.

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Karen, leveraging 25 years of international expertise, is your go-to HR consultant and speaker for organisational and people development for Future Work.

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July 22, 2023

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