Hybrid working and virtual teams can only really be successful when there are high levels of trust. Employees who trust their leaders and feel trusted are more motivated, engaged and ultimately more productive. Teams that trust each other are able to create the magic that other teams are missing.
Harvard Business Review suggests that ‘compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout’.
A lack of trust can lead to secrecy, unresolved conflict and a lack of accountability which are all likely to damage productivity. In his The Five Disfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni positions trust as the foundation for effective teams and shows how an absence of trust leads to fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and poor results.
Trust is an abstract concept and means different things to different people – if you stopped and asked everyone in your team what they need to trust and feel trusted, they might well each give you a different answer. Then when we factor in diverse cultural backgrounds, these different interpretations of trust can become magnified. If we add remote working and virtual or hybrid collaboration to the mix, it becomes even harder to trust each other. The distance created through remote working and lack of personal connection makes it harder for trust to develop naturally.
Trust is a two-way street; leaders who micromanage and find it hard to trust their employees working out of sight should not be surprised if the magic is missing and levels of trust and engagement in their teams are low. We need our team members to trust us and we also need to trust them – and for them to trust each other.
What can we do to generate high levels of trust within our virtual or hybrid team? Most models of trust and recent research break trust down into three components. Put simply, these are:
Words: you communicate well on your area of expertise; you ask and answer questions appropriately, you are transparent
Actions: you do what you say you will, you can be relied on to deliver
Feelings: you make people feel safe and valued, you do the right thing
As leaders we need to ensure we generate trust across all three areas, even more so in global teams and organisations where cultural preferences may lean more towards one component than another.
Here are some practical tips for building trust within your team.
What and how you communicate play an important part in how far your team will trust you. Are you credible? Are you open and honest?
Share your experience and expertise to support the team’s learning and development
Ask for feedback and suggestions then always make sure that you respond to your team’s ideas even if it’s to explain why they wouldn’t work for the moment. Feeling that your feedback or ideas haven’t been acknowledged can be a real trust buster
Communicate often and consistently. Share information and be open about the bigger picture within the organisation beyond the immediate team
If you want your team to develop more trustworthy behaviours, lead by example showing that you are dependable and reliable.
Arrive at meetings on time and model any behaviours that you would like to see from your team such as keeping your camera on or not interrupting
Provide the support you promise to your team members within the time frame agreed. If you have said that you will review a client proposal or give feedback on a presentation, don’t wait for them to remind you just before the deadline
Make sure the team know when you are available for them and how best to contact you
It has become clear that while factors such as competence and reliability are important, our relationship with the other person and how they make us feel are crucially important for creating trust. However good you are at what you do, if you don’t invest in developing a personal relationship, people will find it hard to trust you.
Get to know your team at a more personal level. Find things in common, learn something about their family or their passions. Using icebreakers during weekly team meetings is a great way of sharing personal information but also make time in your one-to-one catch ups as some team members may not feel comfortable sharing too much with the whole team
Create a working environment that feels safe and supportive where people are comfortable speaking out during meetings, making mistakes or just having a bad day
A big part of this is to admit to making mistakes or needing help yourself – showing yourself to be vulnerable will help the team to see you as human
Why not start by making trust part of the conversation. It may feel uncomfortable but if you ask your team what trust means to them and what they need to trust and feel trusted, it shows your openness and gives you a great starting point for developing higher levels of trust within the team. Or you could try a more formal approach like using the Team Trust Indicator as part of a workshop helping you to identify and address the specific trust gaps in your team.
TeamTrust Indicator Feedback Report