Along with poor communication, lack of trust seems to be one of the top reasons that remote teams don’t work. When a team has trust, they operate together as a cohesive unit. They look for ways to help each other, and they maintain healthy relationships. When trust is lacking, people stop talking to each other, withhold information, start pointing the finger, or worse, enjoy when something bad happens to someone. We start to see jealousy and dislike for one another. A remote team that doesn’t trust each other is basically doomed.
Successful remote working results from a finely tuned, consciously chosen combination of skill set, mind set, and tool set. But note that what remote teams need most from their managers concerns mind set. For a remote team to succeed, its manager must both believe that remote teams can succeed and trust that each member will come through as expected.
How To Build Trust On Virtual Teams
- FOCUS ON LIKEABILITY AND RELIABILITY. You can increase trust by focusing on one or both of these things. Almost everyone focuses on reliability where they want to verify skill sets and want to make sure that they are on top of things. But you can’t leave out the likeability portion.
- CARE FOR YOUR TEAMMATES. Caring is a very important part of the equation. If people feel like you have their back, and that you know them, they will begin to trust you.
- MAKE TRUST DEPOSITS. “Trust deposits” are small commitments you are make and fulfil to the rest of the team. Basically, it’s doing what you said you were going to do.
- DON’T CONTROL TOO MUCH. People who are over-controlled tend to get over-dependent and overly reliant. This leaves less room for creativity and less room for coming up with innovative solutions.
- WORK OUT LOUD. On remote teams there are many different ways to work out loud, including practices such as email updates and daily stand-ups, and using tools such as intranets and online apps. Some workers keep their instant messaging status updated so their colleagues always know what they’re working on. Many teams record their meetings for team members who couldn’t attend. Whatever the method, the idea of working out loud is to replicate online the benefit of on-site proximity.
- WORK TOGETHER ONLINE. Working together online is a less-structured approach to working out loud. For some teams, it’s as casual and low-effort as simply turning on the webcams just to feel more connected. But there are also tools for simulating a working environment, or even simulating the physical on-site office.
- ACKNOWLEDGE GOOD WORK. When we take the time to express appreciation for our coworkers’ efforts, we do more than just strengthen our relationships with them; we also solidify our own awareness of their contribution.
- SPEND TIME TOGETHER IN PERSON. For all these effective means of bonding teams digitally, it must be said that nothing can equal actual face time. And so it’s widely recommended that managers facilitate team members’ getting together in person whenever possible—whether that means scheduling a bus ride, a train trip, or a plane ticket.
- PUT FEEDBACK LOOPS IN PLACE. On a remote team, we need to proactively build and maintain positive connections. For that it’s important to loop back with our teammates on a regular basis: to check how things are progressing, as well as to offer our feedback or support.
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Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Welcome to episode 81. Last week I said that I was going to talk about the top do’s and don’ts of remote working, but I’ve changed my mind. I was reviewing some of the interview transcripts this week, and I came across a couple of really great quotes about trust. So I thought it would be a good idea to put together an episode with a selection of some of these great quotes that I came across. As many of you longtime listeners know, trust comes up a lot in these interviews. Along with communication breakdowns, the lack of trust seems to be one of the top reasons that remote teams don’t work.
When a team has trust, they operate together as a cohesive unit. They look for ways to help each other, and they have healthy relationships with each other. I think a lack of trust manifests itself by people stopping talking to each other. They withhold information. People start blaming each other or worse, enjoying when something bad happens to someone. We start to see jealousy and people just not liking each other. A remote team that doesn’t trust each other is doomed. What I teach in my workshop is that trust is based on reliability, consistency, and responsiveness. So can I rely on you to get the work done? Are you doing your work in a consistent manner? And can I get in touch with you when I need to? That’s how I define trust.
Hassan Osman, author of influencing virtual teams and don’t reply all has his own formula. Here’s what he has to say.
[Hassan Osman] [inaudible – 01:59] brought up the subject of trust because trust is a very big component of virtual teams and [inaudible – 02:06] teams. And the reason why I came up with boiling it down to a very simple formula is because trust is a very [inaudible – 02:14] concept. You can’t touch it. It’s not [very pragmatic – 02:18]. It’s not an on-off switch where you either have trust or you don’t have trust. It’s more of a spectrum where you have varying degrees of trust within a team, within two members of a team. And it’s really hard to nail down how you can [inaudible – 02:34] trust within a team. So the simple formula [inaudible – 02:39] equals like ability plus reliability helped a lot because you can increase trust by focusing on one or both of those things. And a lot of people, as you alluded to, really miss out on the likeability portion of it. A lot of people focus on the reliability part where you want to verify skillsets. You want to make sure that people are on top of things and that sort of thing. But the likeability part is extremely important. And based on a lot of research, cognitive psychologists really believe that this plays a very, very crucial role in trusting someone. So to oversimplify it, people you like or people who like you end up trusting you more.
[Lisette] I really like that Hassan adds likeability to the equation. I find that very interesting. You can hear more from Hassan Osman’s interview in episode five. I recently spoke with Dave Blum, and he had another ingredient to add to the trust equation.
[Dave Blum] For all the programs, it all comes down to building trust, really. And you can build trust by a lot of different ways. Just by being together, showing caring for other people is huge. This is true however you’re doing your teamwork. Caring is very important. If people feel like you have their back, you know something about their personal life and you’re respecting that. If someone sees you suffering or working hard or struggling, they’re there to give you a pat on the back [inaudible – 04:11]. All of that builds trust, and that is key to teamwork, whether it’s virtual or co-located. And that’s true for leadership as well. You show true caring for other people, you have their back, and they remember that.
[Lisette] You can hear more of Dave Blum in episode 74. He runs Dr. Clue treasure hunts, which is a team-building adventure service. Next up, I have a quote for Mark Kilby. He’s a rock star Agile coach in Florida. He talks about making trust deposits as a team as you go along. The quality of sound on the interview is not that great, so I apologize for that in advance. It was back in the day when we were still using Hangouts to record the interviews. We’ve now moved on to the lovely tool called Zoom.
Okay, but before I make this product demo, here’s Mark Kilby.
[Mark Kilby] My friend, Chris [inaudible – 05:09] has a great approach as he talks about trusting just right. And it’s really about kind of making those small [inaudible – 05:21] deposits to the rest of the team. So on an Agile team, it’s about making [inaudible – 05:27] commitments on a daily basis, and that’s what part of that standup is. So while the team has [inaudible – 05:34] stories they’re working on, individual team members are saying, “Hey, I’m going to take on this [inaudible – 05:39]. I think I can get it get it done tomorrow, and there’s commitment.” You get to tomorrow. Hey, I had some issues, but I think I can get this done and then making sure you meet that commitment. So [inaudible – 05:52] visibility again on what [inaudible – 05:56] doing, what commitments they’re making to the rest of the team, and also letting the team know, “Hey, I’m having problems with the commitment. [inaudible – 06:05] or reaching out for help.” So I think all those elements is key, whether it’s a virtual or co-located team. It’s just keeping those commitments visible and keeping people informed on here’s how I’m helping the rest of the team.
[Lisette] You can hear more of Mark Kilby’s interview on episode 9. [Eaves Hanouel – 06:29], an Agile coach in Belgium, had very similar things to say as Mark. He has chosen to trust people by default.
Lisette: I wanted to pick your brain about what you feel about trust in remote teams and how you think… How did teams build trust?
Eaves: For me, Trust is given. It’s not earned. That is really some key part of it. I should give trust to people and they might show that they’re distrustful, but I trust them by default because if they have to prove it, then for me, I’m not sure what’s the right word, but then it’s not trusted. It’s more [facts – 07:07] if they can show that [inaudible]. Of course, there is different… and that’s actually something… I think it’s Jurgen Appelo who pointed me to [inaudible – 07:16] would you trust these people to operate your brain. Of course, not. So that’s a different kind of level of trust.
Lisette: You can hear more of Eaves’ interview on episode number 20. And I recommend watching that interview via video because Eaves’ is actually walking at his desk while we’re doing the interview. He has one of those walking desks. And the last interview that I leave you with is Bart Van Loon, also from Belgium. But Bart runs an outsourcing company called zero point. And when I asked him about trust, he said that it’s important to start with trust and don’t control too much.
Bart: One really, really important thing is the control. If you look at the different tasks that any manager, also remote manager would have, would be to brief somebody to support them during the work, then to [inaudible – 08:14] the results and then to give feedback [inaudible – 08:18] kind of the loop that every project manager finds himself in all the time when dealing with [inaudible – 08:24]. And of those four parts, so the briefing, the support team, the controlling, and the feedback loop, controlling really tends to be the most difficult one. It is kind of a trust aspect which has to be there. You have to start with a decent level of trusting each other which then can go up or down depending on the working relationship. And one thing… What people tend to do is they would err on the side of controlling too much. We’ve had clients suggesting that why don’t we put a permanent camera on the room over [inaudible – 09:05] for example or why wouldn’t we constantly [inaudible] of all those guys so we can always see what they’re working on, all these types of control, which are really, really something that we always, always discourage to do or even just not allow it to be implemented because in the long run or even in the [inaudible – 09:28] long run, I would say, they always tend to give the bad results. People who are over-controlled, they tend to get over-dependent, for example. It’s perhaps something that you would see in many Western governments that government employees are over-controlled. So they become over-dependent, over-compliant, and then efficiency goes down, less room for creativity, less room for making errors, less room of thinking of the different solutions to yourself.
Lisette: You can hear more of Bart’s interview on episode 28. Thanks for listening, everyone. I hope this episode and these interviews have given you something to think about. And I hope it inspires you to improve your remote teams in the ways that you can. If you want to learn more about how you can work from anywhere, then visit collaborationsuperpowers.com. You’ll find all kinds of stories in the form of videos and podcasts and more information about the work together anywhere workshop. If you want to continue the conversation about virtual teams with other experts and people who are curious about how to make remote teams work, then send me an email and ask to be added to the virtual team talk Slack group. There you’ll find a number of very interesting people like Bart Kilby and Pilar Orti and all kinds of people. So join us. Come on in. Stay tuned to next week when I speak with Vincent Teets from Saxonia Systems. They have developed a very cool way of connecting distributed Agile teams, and that is through a set of large monitors equipped with cameras, microphones, and a virtual task board. So it’s set up to simulate face-to-face interaction as much as possible. It’s called ATEO Boards. And ATEO stands for [inaudible – 11:30]. I met them at the distributed Agile teams conference in Berlin last November and got to see the ATEO Board in action as they had two teams from across the building building a Lego simulation together. It was really a lot of fun. Our weekly shoutout to Nick, the podcast monster who stitched this podcast together. Thanks, Nick. You can hire him to stitch your podcast together too at podcastmonster.com. All right, everyone, let’s go out and be reliable, responsible, consistent, likeable, trusting creatures. I’ll see you next week. Until next time, be powerful.