You may never have thought of your keyboard as a trust builder, but on virtual teams it surely is. If you’re a virtual leader, your first keystrokes are essential to establishing trust. Continual communication about work tasks helps maintain trust. And social communication that expresses commitment, excitement, and optimism strengthens trust.
The good news? Trust can be developed quickly in virtual teams — from your first interactions with one another. But you have to intentionally nurture the trust as it can be lost just as quickly. Building relationships and fostering trust every day are key elements to effective virtual leadership.
Of course, positive relationships between team members and a general climate of trust are vital to any team, virtual or not.
But in a virtual environment many of the face-to-face interactions that build connections and trust are absent. Your team relies on you to create this foundation.
It’s essential for the team to get to know one another. And as the leader, you must create time for formal and informal relationship-building, both at work and beyond the “office.”
Building relationships and establishing an environment of trust despite the challenges of distance, time, and space, is one of the most important tasks you have as a virtual leader.
Here are some strategies for fostering trust and building relationships with your team:
- Communicate frequently and reliably. Err on the side of being “hypervigilant” about your communication to keep things running smoothly.
- Give trust to get trust.
- Be open and honest.
- Deliver results; follow through on what you say you will do.
- Demonstrate respect; be fair and consistent.
- Listen first; be available to the team and responsive to their inquiries.
- Keep sensitive information confidential.
- Lead by example.
- Establish working agreements to guide your actions and responses.
- Encourage team members to proactively build interpersonal trust and provide opportunities for social time so the team can continue to bond.
- Practice accountability.
- Right wrongs.
From those very first keystrokes with your team, you can establish that trusting environment.
However, lasting trust and strong relationships come from reliable actions and communications over time. The same “virtual presence” and behavior modeling we discussed in Part 2 are also critical here.
Take a minute to reflect on these questions:
- Is my behavior predictable and dependable?
- Do I follow through on my commitments?
- Do I communicate clearly?
- Am I honest with my team?
Once you have solid, trusting relationships on your team, the next step as an effective virtual leader is to build on those relationships so that you can encourage your team to work toward a shared goal.