Building trustworthiness on a virtual team

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Work in any multi site company — including companies with a single site that have telecommuters — and it is a certainty that you will work with people on your team that are not physically present in your office. You are a virtual team connected through the strands of technology and your job skills.

Being on a successful virtual team requires different, added skills for each person on the team.

Most people know that a large percentage of human communication is nonverbal. Not having these visual keys to communication, nor hearing the nuanced tone of language in speaking, all handicap effective communication.

But there is more than simply nonverbal communication challenges to overcome. In a global economy, this merely starts the challenges…

“Cultural, organizational, and social issues arise among people who work together-even when they are in the same physical location,” say Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard Reilly in a new white paper titled “The Virtual Workforce: A Shifting Paradigm.” They call these cultural, organizational, and social issues “virtual distance.” Combined with geography, virtual distance impacts the team and its capacity to perform.

In this white paper, they note the three big challenges for people in virtual teams as:

1. Building trust.
2. Innovating in virtual space.
3. Developing effective leadership skills.

Trust is critical to interacting with teams, but virtual distance handicaps the ability to trust.

How much we trust another person overall, Reilly says, depends on three crucial factors: cognitive trust, which is the expectation that the organization will provide mechanisms or sanctions to ensure that people will do what they say they will do; an individual’s propensity to trust, which has been linked to trust in organizational settings; and the perception of another’s trustworthiness, which is based on one person’s perceptions and experience with another person.

Past the early team building that uses the first two forms of trust, they note, the critical long-term reason in building the relationships on virtual teams is sensing another’s trustworthiness.

Here is where the Cubicle Warrior can shine, because trustworthiness is all about your actions with others on the team. Actions that can build trustworthiness include:

Deliver your tasks to the team on time

The first rule in being on a team is doing your part. If your part is to deliver the task, the team evaluates your trustworthiness based on you delivering what you said you would deliver on time. There is a world of difference in “let’s give it to Scot because we know it will get done” and “let’s not give it to Scot because we’ll just need to go in and fix what he did.”

Which is more trustworthy?

Deliver a higher quality of work than expected

If the deliverable is a report in Excel, don’t just deliver numbers; deliver numbers and graphs that extract the meaning out of the numbers. If the deliverable is a presentation in PowerPoint, don’t just do a “death by bullet point” presentation; instead, create the images and critical words on the presentation and have the meat of the topic completed in the notes.

Plan the time in your deliverable to up the quality of the work one level.

Socialize your deliverable before the due date

What teams think they have you working on compared with what you think the team has you working on can be two — or three — different deliverables. Before you happily turn in your deliverable on the day it is due, deliver a part of the deliverable and ask if you are on the right track.

The deal is: half the time, especially in a virtual team, what the team interpreted they heard is different for each person on the team. When you show up with your version, the likelihood of it being “wrong” is high.

This is especially true if you are a new member in a well-established team. Well-established teams have already gone through the process of getting to effectiveness. In so doing, they unconsciously use code words for the task based on past experiences. Or, you deliver based on what your old team needed. Each new team is a new testing environment and everything needs confirmation to integrate the team.

So deliver a stated partial early in the process. It will clear up any needed interpretations and will start the buy-in process of your work by the team early on.

Emotional maturity builds trustworthiness

If you can keep your head while the world goes crazy around you, it will build credibility fast. Who wants a whiner, complainer, or negative person on a team trying to do something? Especially over “virtual distance” of geography, social, cultural and organizational challenges?

Yet, even in widely diverse companies, the low emotional maturity of the players on a team is stunning.

Understanding conflict and how to both elicit and control it are critical skills to build for the Cubicle Warrior. My favorite tactic to provide voice to the conflict is to propose a solution that is “out there.” “Cancel the program.” “Take the program company-wide.” “Raise prices 100%”

If you take the extreme position and support it in a way that elicits comments and concerns, you will build a better solution. Usually, the most extreme position is not the right end position. But if you state it as taking this extreme position as a way to focus the debate, you’ll usually succeed in getting to the right issues to solve.

Being on successful virtual teams is a challenge. The biggest challenge is building your trustworthiness to other team members so you become an effective virtual team member.

Technology is a cold way of communicating, but one we continue to use more and more often to work. Use technology with the attitude of building trustworthiness to guide you in your communications. You’ll be glad you did.

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