Is Trust the Key Component in Virtual Teams

In the fields of remote collaboration, global teams and managing wide-scale organizational change, Nancy Settle-Murphy has few equals. Her new book, Leading Effective Virtual Teams: Overcoming Time and Distance to Achieve Exceptional Results, draws from more than two decades of experience in facilitating the work of global teams. Nancy shows you how to lead and participate in virtual teams and effectively tap the best thinking of key contributors working across time zones, locations and cultures. Nancy’s company is Guided Insights and can be found on twitter @nsettlemurphy. She is the guest on Business901 podcast tomorrow and this is an excerpt from the podcast.


There seems to be such a direct correlation between trust and teamwork. I see it in my son’s gaming, which we talked about in a previous conversation. That trust in the other person is developed, I think through respect for each other, it has to be nurtured through practice and playing together. Are there ideas of how you build that respect for each other? There has to be a certain confidence in the other person that really builds that virtual team and that teamwork involved.


You bring up a lot of good points. First of all, I think trust does have to get built. I’m an eternal optimist, but I believe that most people come into a new relationship with neutral trust. If I don’t know you, I have no reason not to trust you, but I don’t really have a reason yet to trust you. I come in wanting to trust you and essentially trusting you unless you prove that I shouldn’t. I think one important aspect of trust is to understand from the different people on your team what attributes and qualities signal trust more than others.Virtual teams

For example, you might find sincerity being something that above and beyond anything else is the most important thing for you to be able to trust someone. For me, it might be that you deliver when you say and that I can rely on you, you’re reliable and you follow through. If you’re reliable and follow through, even if you’re not a warm or compassionate person, that’s less important to me than your reliability, so I might trust you because you’re reliable. Someone else may care less about reliability and care more about do you care for the rest of us. I think the first thing is to find out – and it’s not easy, there’s no survey for this – but to really be mindful of what attributes and qualities are most important for each member of the team, and then to demonstrate those capabilities. I think that is the first step.

And then the second – and this often evolves over the life of a team – is to openly discuss in what areas norms are needed and to have very candid discussions. For example, if I’m a team leader and let’s say we have set a ground rule for our meetings of no multi-tasking, and during every team meeting, we can all tell Joe is multi-tasking, we can hear the key clicks, he often says, What did you say, can you repeat that? If I as the team leader don’t call Joe on it or don’t say anything and instead send a secret IM asking Joe to pay attention, then the rest of the team, as far as they’re concerned, will assume either I was ignoring this bad and dysfunctional behavior, or that I’m playing favorites because I’m letting him go, or that I’m not serious about these group norms. In any event, their trust in me as a leader is really going to be eroded if I appear either inattentive or apathetic about our ground rules. So I think setting ground rules as a virtual team leader and saying, hey Joe, we really need your participation, your views are critical. We can shorten this meeting by 10 minutes if we can all pay attention. So, Joe, can I ask you for the rest of the meeting if we can have your full attention? So it’s making some intervention like that which is a little awkward for some people, but the rest of your team will hold you in much higher esteem.

I think it’s the ability of the team and the team leader to set the stage that candor is critical, and that if there’s some behavior or there’re some attributes or qualities that are going to be really important for everyone to be able to work together effectively, you have to be able to name it openly and discuss it as a team.

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