We all know that trust is important at work. If you can’t trust your coworkers, you won’t feel comfortable or confident in your abilities to achieve things together. But, how much does trust matter in virtual teams? Turns out, a lot! With so many people leading virtual teams right now, we thought it would be helpful to provide some tips. Read more to find out how trust impacts virtual teams and what you can do about it.

What is trust?

At work, trust is defined as the willingness to make yourself vulnerable with another person, because you’re confident they will deliver on something important. It also requires that you allow the other person to work on a deliverable, without trying to control the process. When two people can count on each other, they are opening themselves up to collaborate effectively. This is because they are able to agree to deliver something and then walk away from conversation without anxiety that it won’t happen.

When you have trust in teams, it’s a little more complicated. Team trust requires a lot more inputs and outputs. There are many more “moving parts” since there are many people on the team. Also, there are a lot of people who are making agreements with one another at once. The more of those agreements that are made with confidence, the more likely it is that the team’s trust will be high. In other words, the more the team shares perceptions that they can count on each other, the higher the team’s level of trust.

When teams trust each other, they expect that they will all follow through on their work!

How does it matter in teams?

Teams that have more trust tend to be more comfortable taking positive risks. What does this mean? It means that they are less likely to put up defenses or to try to control one another’s work. It also means that team members feel they can discuss conflicts or errors more openly. They are also more likely to share information and to provide honest feedback. While these behaviors may not seem risky, in low trust environments, they can actually be pretty scary.

The good news is that all of these behaviors help teams to be able to coordinate and cooperate better. If you aren’t defensive, you can connect with others more strongly. When you aren’t trying to micro-manage, you allow people’s talents to shine. Open conversation allows teams to identify and deal with issues more effectively. Overall, teams are more effective when they have more trust. It makes sense – the more you feel you can be transparent and authentic with your team, the better your work products will be.

When teams are virtual, people can get their signals crossed. That’s why trust is even more important when working virtually!

How do you grow trust in virtual teams?

Virtual teams are those that are geographically dispersed and which have their communication mediated by some form of technology. While we all benefit from the ability to work virtually, it’s also important to recognize the challenges that working virtually presents. For example, you have less interaction with your coworkers. Plus, you don’t have as many social cues to use when interpreting their messages. So, it’s easier to misinterpret others and to become suspicious of their intentions. For that reason, it’s even more important to grow trust in virtual teams.

What can you do to grow trust in virtual teams? First, you can allow people to interact more socially. Just because you’re virtual doesn’t mean you have to be strangers! Schedule time to talk to one another, either one-on-one or in a group setting, without having an agenda. Sometimes you just need to get to know each other for trust to grow. Second, you might also want to implement some software that would allow you to keep track of each member of the teams’ contributions. This way, people won’t fear that their work will be overlooked or that others will miss deadlines without anyone noticing.

Finally, keep track of how people are feeling on the team. You can always measure levels of trust in the team by asking folks how comfortable they feel performing trusting behaviors. Even if you make the survey anonymous, you can still make changes that will improve the team, if the overall results are worrying. We’ve talked about similar concepts, like psychological safety, that might be helpful to revisit here as well. How have you grown trust in virtual teams? How does it feel working in a virtual team where trust is low or high? We would love to hear from you below!

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