Building trust in the workplace takes effort and it takes time. How do you accomplish it when your team members don’t work in the same office? How do you build trust-filled, work relationships within a team of people who engage with each other remotely? If you’re asking those questions, you are well on your way toward developing a high-performing team!
We’ve written previously about the hard work it takes to build organizational culture on remote teams. Building trust requires the same amount of intentionality as it does for building culture. In this article, we help you take steps toward becoming the best leader you can be by giving you 3 ways to build trust on a remote team.
Take advantage of “swift trust”
Did you know that one of the most effective trust-building exercises is done within 90 days of the formation of your virtual team? When a team forms, as long as there aren’t any previous, negative work relationships, trust levels are high. People are excited about new adventures and opportunities. Your job as the manager is to leverage this trust and excitement and set up your team for future success. According to Harvard Business Review, there are two key steps a leader must take to take advantage of swift trust:
- Consistently tout the competencies of each group member. Do this by addressing the gifts and talents of each person individually.
- Give your team clear goals that everyone understands. If you don’t accomplish this part, you may actually deplete the trust reservoir before your team gets started on its first project.
In the first 90 days, give your team tasks to complete together. The objective is to create a shared successful experience working together and a foundation to maintain trust after the first 90 days are over.
Be intentional at the start of your meetings
Teams that work remotely, just like teams that work in an office, spend the majority of their time focusing on issues together. Over time, this constant pressure can erode trust levels between team members. One way that you can fight against this decline is by taking 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the size of your team), at the front-end of your team meetings, to ask about each team member’s life outside of work. In her Forbes.com article, Liz Ryan argues that exercises like this communicate that you value your team members as people more than you value them as production units
Some questions you could ask your team members are:
- Did you do anything fun over the weekend? If so, what?
- Are you planning anything fun for the summer?
- How is your family doing?
- I’m looking for a good personal development book to read. Does anybody have a recommendation?
Of course, there is nuance to this kind of interaction that you’ll have to discover through trial and error. But, you can understand the concept. It will feel unnatural and might seem unproductive at first but, the more you demonstrate to your team members that you see them as humans before employees, the more they will trust you and, in turn, trust each other.
It’s leadership 101, but it needs to be said here. People will model the behavior of their leader. They will devote time to action, and corresponding results, that you celebrate.
So, as you begin leading a team of remote employees, a reality that might be unchartered territory for you, you’ll need to make sure you are personally modeling, and celebrating the way you want your team members to behave. Below are some very tangible ways that you can model trust-building behavior:
- Be early to meetings. If you’re early, you communicate that you value people’s time. A side benefit will be the chance to chit-chat with the team members who also show up early.
- Do what you say you’re going to do. It won’t take long for team members to realize that your word is trustworthy. On the flip side, they will notice if you don’t keep your word.
- Be reachable. During agreed-upon office hours, make sure you are available to your employees. If you can demonstrate approachability, your team members will feel valued and will model the same behavior to customers or stakeholders.
- Be authentic. Ask yourself, “Do I truly believe that other people can be trusted? Does my bias come from experience or is it completely unbiased?” You’ll need to be completely bought into the power of trust in relationships if this is going to work.
Ultimately, if you are leading a team of remote team members, you are going to have to do some introspection to make sure you believe and are modeling the kind of behavior that will promote trust.
We hope that these 3 ways for building trust on a remote team have been helpful. The truth is that people want to feel like they are being treated like human beings and not merely a cog in the organizational wheel. If you are leading anyone, locally or remotely, you have already found that increasing the level of trust between team members will have a parallel effect on productivity and quality of their work.
In your experience in a non-profit organization or association, how have you been able to build trust on your team? How have you built trust with remote employees? We would love to hear your thoughts!