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Building Trust Over Large Distances

This is part one of our three-part Tip of the Month series on virtual team building activities. This month’s article addresses the issue of building trust amongst your virtual team members when they are separated by time or space.

When virtual team members are separated by distance, research suggests that trust between these members declines by 83 percent.

Trust may be the most significant drawback of working in a virtual team, particularly in a global virtual team. Teams require cohesion to obtain positive results and meet goals, but a lack of trust can damage a team’s ability to do so.

Of course, global virtual teams tend to outperform co-located teams when they are well-managed. This indicates that trust over large distances is attainable but requires the right leadership and team member skills.

Global virtual teams can see other advantages as well. Access to a global talent pool leads to greater innovation and a workforce that is more representative of the global consumer. Global teams can also be more flexible and responsive to their work environment.

By human nature, establishing trust between team members is easier in face-to-face situations. This is why experts suggest that if you could have only one face-to-face interaction with your team, it should be the first time you meet. Fostering trust from the start creates a backbone for a high-performing virtual team. During your first team meeting, invest time building relationships and creating specific agreements for how team members will work together.

In situations where team members are separated by large distances, how can you make sure your team members trust you, and how can you build trust in them?

Here’s a Tip

There are two types of trust—cognitive and emotional. Cognitive trust is based on logic. It develops from assessments we make about one another’s perceived integrity and ability. To build cognitive trust, follow the Four Cs:

  • Credibility– demonstrate your expertise to build confidence in your judgment and abilities with your team members
  • Consistency– do what you say you will do; this allows team members to see you as predictable and reliable
  • Communication– let team members know what you expect and be flexible and willing to negotiate, if necessary
  • Consideration– show respect for others’ needs and follow team-based agreements

In our next Tip of the Month, I’ll share ways to build emotional trust among global team members.

For more information about ways to boost the performance of your diverse teams, go to my book, Literally Virtually: Making Virtual Teams Work.

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