7 Ways to Develop Trust on a Virtual Team

Virtual teams are everywhere. You have virtual assistants working with entrepreneurs all over the world; collaboration happens virtually without face-to-face contact every day; employees may telecommute; and major decisions are made for businesses over the phone and other technology all the time. Each of these examples is based on the workings of a virtual team.

Virtual teams need many things to run effectively, but there is one thing that has to exist on every virtual team: trust. If you don’t have trust among members of your virtual team, you need to learn how to develop it, and fast.

Here are seven ways to develop and foster trust on your virtual team.

Be Transparent

When a team is comprised of a leader and subordinates — as most teams are — it’s easy to leave out information that doesn’t trickle down to the rest of the team. But this left-out information can often be the source of conflict. For example, your virtual team surely knows what they are working toward together, but do they know why? Transparency can be as simple as sharing a goal, motivation or inspiration.

Of course, everything that goes on in a team environment doesn’t need to be passed on to every team member, but no one wants to feel manipulated. Avoid withholding information if it will help clarify a project, provide useful background information, help get everyone on the same page, or make working together easier.

Shut Up and Listen

Like many things in life, building trust often boils down to being able to communicate successfully. And part of good communication is listening and taking time to understand what other people are saying. This is especially important on a virtual team when you can’t benefit from face-to-face conversation and see non-verbal cues that often makes it easier to understand what someone means.

Take time to listen and understand what your team members are saying, and ask for clarification when you need it. If you aren’t taking the time to listen and understand, you will have a difficult time inspiring them to action.

Follow Through Every Time

One of the biggest fears in a team environment is that someone will drop the ball or renege on their promises, and the entire team will come crashing down. And it’s a valid concern; everyone needs to carry their weight on a team, virtual or not.

Start by making it standard practice to say what you mean and mean what you say. And then do whatever it takes to fulfill your promises. If you consistently follow through, your team members will gain confidence in you and you will demonstrate what is expected.

Be Approachable

If you are the team leader, it’s important to make yourself approachable. Everyone wants to have a say and feel listened to, and that’s impossible if your time is off-limits. Be accessible via email, phone, IM, or any other mode of communication used by your team, and welcome direct contact.

If you are a team member, you need to be approachable, too. Be responsive when communication takes place, and make sure you are contributing as much as you can to the conversation.

Encourage Participation

Do you want to be a part of a dictatorship? I don’t, and I don’t know many people that do. That’s why I see teams that actually encourage teamwork thrive more than hierarchical teams.

The best teams are those with a spread of power, so give your team members a chance to contribute to the team initiatives and have ownership of their own work. Invite individual feedback, and ask general questions to give team members a chance to weigh in. Then, use the feedback provided to make changes to improve the team dynamic.

Recognize Effort

You created a team because you couldn’t do everything yourself, so it’s now up to you to hold your team members accountable for the role they’ve played. When things don’t go well, every team member needs to step up and take responsibility.

You should also make a point to share every success and recognize good work and dedicated effort, even when the end result is not exactly what was intended. Consistent recognition will make every team member feel appreciated, more willing to invest his/her time in the team, and help facilitate trust in you as the team leader.

Create a Water Cooler

Project-based meetings are important, but they usually just focus on work-related issues (as they should). And since you are virtual, your team members can’t benefit from the sense of camaraderie that develops from chatting by the water cooler during the day. You have to create your own opportunities for social time.

Create an always-open chat area that members can pop in and out of when it suits them to say hi or leave a message for the group, or schedule regular coffee chats so team members can get to know each other and let off steam. These informal gatherings can do amazing things for developing trust.

How do you develop trust on your virtual team?

Image credit: arekmalang

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Alyssa Gregory
Alyssa is a digital strategist, content marketer, freelance writer and founder of the Small Business Bonfire. She's a team player, a team builder and not a bad leader, either. You can often find her on various social networks looking for remarkable people to collaborate with.

7 comments

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  1. Thanks for the wonderful tips Alyssa! I’m working with a few assistant copywriters now and a virtual assistant so I’m putting this advice to practical use right away. While we have a project management system in place, I like the idea of the water cooler area so everyone can chat together.

  2. I am the former Founder/Executive Editor (Director) of the online publication, attributemagazine.com. My staff was managed and worked, completely virtually. I think at the height of our tenure, I directed 15-18 people scattered around the world (I had a couple of writers who were overseas as well and wrote articles with a global reach).

    I agree with all the points you make, Allysa. Although one thing that I didn’t see mentioned was getting to know their personality types. This is key, especially in my magazine’s case, as many were creative beings who were sensitive and had other projects/jobs to tend to.

    I was asked to write a series of columns for an outside website once, focusing on the HOW of running this business (and how to keep an optimistic outlook). One of the articles I penned was titled “Herding Cats”; I titled it such because it often felt as though that is what I was doing: herding cats-as, no two are ever alike. Each one of my staffers had unique ways of doing things, personalities and needs.

    I made a consorted effort to get to know each and every one of them on a personal level so I could understand how to reach them if they seemed to be going astray or were MIA for some reason (which is something you contend with in the virtual world…not having the expectation of having to go to an office daily). I also featured my staffers in a monthly spotlight on the website, not only so they could know one another, but so the outside world could get to know them as well. They seemed to really appreciate this effort.

    All in all, I think the approach I took was successful and fruitful. :D

    • Great points, Stacey. The personality factor is vital and one that should be considered long before you’re trying to make the team work well together. There are many different ways to explore personalities, communication preferences, and potential conflict areas — all important to make sure everyone can work well together AND to give you insight as the team leader how to communicate with each person. I love your idea of monthly spotlights. Sounds like a great way to provide incentive, share ownership and recognize effort.

  3. Thanx Alyssa, Very timely article. I m in process of creating a virtual team and your idea broaden my approach. I loved the idea of water cooler. I m in process of creating water cooler time around some favourite hang out joint so that people can interact and share the bon homie.

  4. Pingback: The One Thing You Need to Develop Trust in Your Business | Small Business Bonfire

  5. Pingback: Top 4 Reasons to Hire Virtual Support | Small Business Bonfire

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