The Importance of Building Trust in Virtual Teams

By Nicola Blocley

In 2019, almost all of us have had experience working in a virtual team – a 2018 global study of executives from major organisations found that 89% of respondents work on a virtual team, and 27% are on at least four virtual teams. The flexibility that virtual team work provides is undeniably a significant benefit – for us at Capability Group it means we are able to work on projects with our team members based in our Sydney and Singapore offices, as well as our Roxburgh and Ngatimoti offices and anyone who is travelling, without everyone needing to gather in a meeting room in our Auckland office. However, with 84% of respondents to the survey reporting that virtual communication is more difficult than in-person communication, how can we ensure that our virtual teams are built on the same foundation of trust that we are able to foster in physical teams?

Research into virtual teams across a range of industries shows that interpersonal trust can help overcome many of challenges virtual teams face. Trust improves collaboration and knowledge sharing, coordination, performance, and is overall a critical success factor for virtual teams.

Managers of virtual teams also need to try to develop deeper forms of trust as early as possible.

Since leaders of virtual teams don’t have the luxury of regular physical interactions to build trust with their team members, they often need to rely on swift trust to begin with. However, managers of virtual teams also need to try to develop deeper forms of trust as early as possible. Some ways to achieve this include:

1. Create an internal website or team page where team members can see their colleagues’ credentials, experience and other personal information.

2. Arrange one or two face-to-face team building meetings where the team members share information about their training and skills to develop deeper forms of trust.

3. Using a social networking site, whether it be internal (like Slack or Teams) or external (a Facebook group) can be particularly beneficial to reinforce trust development processes by enabling the building of a shared context.

By following updates and discussing shared interests, team members become aware of what is going on within the team and get to know each other. Additionally, using agile techniques can facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing and trust between members of distributed teams.

Virtual team leaders need to consciously set out to build trust with their team. Team training can address team breakdowns and expand team capabilities. Team members can benefit from one-on-one coaching from their team leader about their performance and the team’s mission. And, team leaders can (and should) be trained on managing virtual teams.

As Patrick Lencioni has demonstrated through the Five Dysfunctions, having trust in your team – whether virtual or face-to-face, is crucial to being able to achieve high performance.

For more on building trust within virtual teams, contact Capability Group and refer to this article.