Trust is the fuel that powers your team. Without it, the engine stalls and every initiative feels like an uphill battle. Unfortunately, there’s no gauge that can measure your team’s trust level or tell you when you’re running on empty.
There’s no question that the impacts of deteriorating trust are real, however. Poor productivity, disengagement, and high turnover are common features of a working environment that lacks trust. By the time these problems emerge, it can be quite difficult to rebuild the relationships needed to facilitate collaboration.
Trust and Virtual Teams
Trust can be even harder to maintain in a virtual team environment. The nature of geographically distributed teams puts additional strains on communication and makes it difficult for team members to build connections and foster accountability. Effective virtual leaders find ways to break down the barriers imposed by distance through a combination of innovative technology tools and strong management techniques.
Sometimes, however, the relationships within a team deteriorate and cause members to lose trust in one another or, worse, in their team leader. While the reasons for a breakdown in trust aren’t always easy to diagnose, the symptoms are often readily apparent if you know where to look.
6 Signs Your Virtual Team Has Trust Issues
1. Every Conversation Is Strictly Business
Intimacy is one of the essential elements necessary for building trust within your team, and it requires more effort when you’re working from a distance.
Your team members don’t have to know every detail of each other’s lives, but they should know something about their families, what drives them, and what teams they cheer for. If you can find common ground when it comes to things like sports and Netflix shows, it’s much easier to reach an understanding when it really counts. Scheduling regular team-building activities that allow members to get to know each other is much more important for virtual teams since they don’t typically interact outside of a work context.
Another way to build intimacy from the beginning is to invite team members to share why they joined the team and what they’re looking forward to most. Taking some time before or after a virtual meeting to encourage people to share their thoughts or interests outside of work can help them to empathize with one another and share common ground.
2. Team Members Bash Each Other
When someone makes a misstep or does something aggravating, do your team members talk about it to everyone except that person? If so, that’s a sign of a toxic environment brewing. Everything may appear fine on the surface, but beneath it, anger and frustration are simmering and will eventually boil over. It’s impossible to trust anyone when everyone is looking over their shoulder wondering if they’ll be the next target.
Although managing conflict can be challenging in the moment, taking the time to let everyone air out their disagreements can go a long way toward diffusing the tension. While the underlying issues may not be solved, simply knowing that they are being heard and understood can help people get past their disagreements and refocus on working toward their collective goals.
3. Everyone Is In It For Themselves
Another important element of trust is a low self-orientation, or believing others have your best interest at heart. If your team members don’t feel they’re getting the support they need, or everyone is constantly focused on their own needs and goals, it’s not an environment that’s conducive to trust. When a team is no longer able to communicate effectively, the substantial collaborative benefits of having a team are lost.
The leader often sets the tone for the team, so make sure you’re not part of the problem. Here are a few ways to shift the focus away from yourself and toward your team:
- Avoid interrupting
- Identify shared goals
- Find out what’s important to others
- Look for common ground
- Get input and build support before implementing a new initiative
4. People Are Reluctant to Ask for Help
Do your team members consistently try to take on too much themselves? If so, it could be a sign they don’t believe they can rely on others. Reliability is an important component of trust that is built by following through time after time. Within virtual teams, however, it tends to happen more slowly. The problem is that the instinct to take on additional work begins from a good place, but can quickly turn into resentment if a team member feels that others aren’t pulling their weight. Conversely, team members who feel like other people don’t trust them to do their jobs quickly become frustrated over not having an opportunity to prove they can make valuable contributions to the team.
Hosting regular team meetings, brainstorming sessions and status updates can help team members see how their individual contributions fit into the big picture and break down silos. Whenever possible, make the effort to connect with your team in person or on video. Good communication can help team members ensure that everyone is being accountable for their responsibilities and that no one person is being forced to pick up the slack.
5. No One Owns Up to Mistakes
Does your team play the blame game? If no one takes accountability or is held accountable for their actions, it’s a sure sign your team suffers from a lack of trust. When teams are built upon mutual trust, people should feel free to have open and honest communication about what went wrong and how to fix it.
Team members who refuse to take accountability when things go wrong are more concerned with their own survival than with the team’s success. Effective leaders find ways to reset expectations and make sure that everyone understands why their tasks are valuable to the team as a whole.
6. There’s Micromanaging To The Max
Within virtual teams, there’s a temptation for leaders to check in more often because they don’t see their team members face to face each day. But there’s a difference between checking in to see if someone needs support and constantly monitoring their progress to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.
When team members feel like they’re being watched all the time or excessively managed, they will rightly conclude that their leader doesn’t trust them to do their work. If there has never been a reason to question their accountability, they may find this micromanaging disrespectful and frustrating. Virtual leaders need to work with each team member to find out just how much management they need to do their job effectively. Since this could vary from person to person, leaders must work to build these relationships.
Of course, remote work isn’t for everyone. If a team member consistently demonstrates an inability to work effectively from a distance, the organization may need to rethink its process for hiring remote workers.
Trust is built naturally among teams that interact in person each day, but it takes more effort to develop among teams that rarely (if ever) meet face to face. Virtual leaders need to prioritize creating an environment that allows trusting relationships to develop. When team members trust one another and their leader, they can communicate and collaborate effectively to drive organizational goals. When trust breaks down, however, they will struggle to be productive and produce meaningful results.