I was in India earlier this month and found that perspectives on how to build trust on virtual teams are just as transactional and “completion-focused” as they are in my home of New York, USA. In other words, the several dozen Indian professionals I interacted with all responded to the following question in similar ways:
“What is the best way to build trust and relationships on a new virtual team?”
“Be reliable and deliver work on time and in a consistent, predictable way. Make sure that you give your work 110% on new virtual teams. Offering the best quality will build trust with your new teammates more than anything.”
I was surprised to find that many of those I spoke to did not cite interpersonal trust as a necessary path to building trusting, high-performing virtual teams. In fact, most people I talk to, irrespective of nationality or cultural background, agree that they currently build trust by getting work done. This seems to be what we can control, and the rest is up to…who?
Virtual teams need to spend extra time building trust because their normal communication channels (email, telephone, teleconference and instant messaging) do not facilitate normal, human forms of interaction, such as:
- Being physically present and in front of the person you’re talking to
- Exchanging informal or personal details (e.g. ‘gossip’)
- Having lingering conversations that have as much to do with business as they have to do with the basics, e.g. who we are as people
Of course, if your calls always start late, then perhaps you do spend time catching up with whoever was “punctual”. If you can relate to that, I say that you may be on to something! Starting your calls “late” in favor of a few minutes to share what’s going on in your world is a fabulous way to work on the interpersonal and oftentimes subconscious trust that we need to feel like a part of a virtual team.
Finding a common thread has been a very important way for me to connect with colleagues, clients, partners and leaders, and following-up on those commonalities makes not only for more interesting conversations, but leads to deeper, “hidden” levels of trust that extend in a fruitful way to the tasks my virtual team is charged with completing.
For example, I have a serious, ongoing email exchange with a colleague in Mumbai about the secrets, trials and tribulations of getting frequent flier status within the Star Alliance network. Because of this ongoing dialogue, I’ve noticed that we also get better collaboration and better solutions out to our clients in comparison to the work I do with folks I don’t yet have a non-business reason to chat. There is a clear bond and sense of unity that would otherwise not be there if we weren’t sufficiently curious to ask such questions of each other (and discover that we both share an obsessive passion to achieve this status each year).
There was an aspect of my time in India that washed over me like a warm sunbath, and it was the level of genuine interest in learning about my life and what I thought of India, as expressed by the people I met face-to-face (i.e. not behind a computer screen). To that end, I took full advantage of the time I spent with colleagues in India, letting them teach me about their part of the world, and asking questions to fill gaps I’ve neglected to fill because of the strictures of virtual teaming.
How do you bring the human element into your virtual teamwork? How can we re-create the atmosphere of exchange that more easily comes from conversations that take place in-person to enable higher performance on virtual and global teams?
Click below to learn more with our CultureWizard Tips for Virtual Team Success.