Anatomy of a Virtual Team: Trust


Trust is important for any organization, whether they are in person or virtual, it is a vital piece to the success of a company. As we work from home the dynamics of trust in work relationships have changed but many do not really understand the differences between virtual and in person trust. The most obvious difference for most would be that when you are working virtually, there is little oversight from your coworkers. While this is true of a virtual environment there have been several findings about the differences between these settings that may surprise you.


If you have ever started a new job without knowing many of the people beforehand, you may be familiar with the fact that in person trust is built over time. As you have more interactions with coworkers and continue to deliver on your responsibilities, trust is built. Virtual settings and trust actually work in the reverse. Virtual teams start with higher levels of trust than in person teams but the trust in virtual teams fluctuates more over time based on team performance (Jaakson & McClenaghan, 2019). This is an interesting adaptation on the part of virtual teams in that these teams realize that they must accomplish tasks without the traditional interactions you would have in person. Therefore, to counteract the ambiguity of working remotely in virtual teams, the people involved place a higher amount of trust in their teammates and reassess that trust based directly on team performance and outcomes.


To help solidify trust being built in virtual teams, it is important to have several small, quick wins to better establish that trust. Once the team sees that everything is being accomplished to a satisfactory level, you can build upon that trust and have a more effective team. It has been found that the relationship between team trust and team productivity is actually stronger among virtual teams than in-person teams once that trust is established (Owens & Khazanchi, 2018). This is an interesting find when considering the effectiveness of virtual teams, especially since many people are currently frustrated with their virtual setting.


When considering why your team in particular is struggling to establish a strong base of trust, you may consider how the individuals on your team interact with technology. Jaakson & McClenaghan (2019) found that the level of trust within a virtual team is partially based on an individual’s comfort and trust in the technology being used to work virtually. When individuals do not trust the technology being used, it can actually impact their trust in team members. To combat this distrust, you could offer small training sessions for those who may be unfamiliar with the technology or consider changing the technology used, if it is agreeable with the rest of the team.


Another interesting way that some have attempted to build trust in teams is by utilizing a virtual reality setting, similar to the video game Sims (Owens & Khazanchi, 2018). This allows for more real time interaction as well as the ability to see when team members are available for a chat either about personal or work matters. The study was successful in creating a trusting bond among the team members who utilized this technology. While this solution seems a little impractical at this time, it is a unique solution that we may be seeing more of in the future.


On a more practical note the best and simplest ways to promote trust in virtual teams is as follows:

  1. As was mentioned above, small wins can help solidify trust in a virtual team. To determine these small goals, look at the group’s decided upon overarching goal and look at the steps it would take to get there. Nothing is too small to be considered a goal and a lot of little ones up front will help your team become stronger and more productive together.

  2. One of the most highly cited drawbacks of virtual work is the lack of social interaction. To combat this, some companies have scheduled more meetings that leave employees exhausted. A happy medium is to have just the necessary meetings for regular work functioning and then the option for smaller check-ins throughout the week. This allows employees to have the face time they desire but on their own schedules. Interaction is highly important for the success of the team but it is taxing when it is more of a forced meeting.

  3. Finally, you want to find the best tech mediums for your team. Every team is different so if you have the option to, do some research and find the tech that works best for you. Some companies don’t always have this option so make sure you help create buy-in from your team by being accessible for training sessions or answering questions people may have. In this case it is always best to be transparent of why you have to use this specific tech and your team members are likely to be more willing to work with you.


If you are interested in learning more about ways you can increase trust within your team, head over to agl.thinkific.com to take our course on the Virtual Self. There are several tips and tricks on how to set yourself up for success on an individual level before moving into our upcoming course on Virtual Teams.


Thanks for reading!


Sources:

Jaakson, K., Reino, A., & McClenaghan, P. B. (2019). The space between – linking trust with individual and team performance in virtual teams. Team Performance Management, 25(1), 30-46. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy2.usc.edu/10.1108/TPM-03-2018-0024


Owens, D., & Khazanchi, D. (2018). Exploring the impact of technology capabilities on trust in virtual teams. American Journal of Business, 33(4), 157-178. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy2.usc.edu/10.1108/AJB-04-2017-0008