Virtual Teams

Building Trust in Virtual Teams

I have been researching trust for the next update to our remote and virtual teams training. We have included this topic since 1994 and developed some practical tools for building trust in an environment where we can rarely get face to face and are cooperating across cultures and through technology.

At the same time, trust has become a hot topic for social research. I just finished reading two good reviews/summaries of the trust literature: Handbook of Trust Research Edited by Reinhard Bachman and Akbar Zaheer and Organizational Trust Editd by Roderick M Kramer.

It is nice to see so many of the “common sense” things that good managers actually do to build trust in virtual teams being confirmed by the research. We have always said to participants in our sessions on trust that we all know how to be trustworthy in principle and we all know how to build trust (and what damages trust) The problem is that under pressure of time or inattention we sometimes don’t actually do it.

An exception to this may be in the area of cross-cultural trust. For two reasons

  1. People tend to attribute more trust in the early stages of virtual teams to people they consider as more similar to them. Conversely it can be harder for people from outside the “in-group” to establish trust and overcome any pre-existing stereotypes.
  2. Different cultures have different expectations about how relationships and trust are formed, how the hierarchy is managed and how communication should work. When these expectations are unwittingly not met by people from other cultures with different expectations, this can undermine trust

These and other issues of building trust in remote and virtual teams need to be addressed right at the start so we create the conditions for trust to develop fast. Perceptions set at this early stage can form fast and be very hard to change remotely.

However the focus should not be on trust itself but on simply getting on with things – as we will see in the next post.

Find out more about our remote and virtual teams and tools for cross cultural success training programs.

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