In this guest article, Kevan Hall deconstructs virtual teams.
Trust is essential for effective teams and organisations. It correlates with job performance, retention, engagement, innovation and just about everything else worthwhile that you can mention.
But in global and virtual teams we are trying to build trust across barriers of distance, cultures and time zones, in complex organisation structures, and where most communication is through technology rather than face-to-face.
At Global Integration, we tend to work with highly distributed teams and organisations who rarely meet physically. Communication, and in particular building trust, can be a challenge.
For most of human history trust was developed through face-to-face interactions. Today we ask people to trust colleagues from around the world in a different time zone and they different culture, simply on the basis that they have a similar email address.
But social media starts to change the pattern of connections. If we are connected through Facebook, IBM connections or even Twitter, we start to experience communication on a wider range of topics and using rich media like photos and videos. If I understand a little bit about your interests and life outside work, it can help me build trust more quickly (provided your profile and interests show you to be trustworthy!)
For people new to a virtual team it can be really useful to connect with your new colleagues and quickly gather information on their backgrounds, interests and achievements. For them, being able to see your photograph and a little about you may raise the initial level of trust, even before you meet.
When recruiting, I will always have checked out applicants’ LinkedIn profile in advance, and I am already making judgements about their ability to establish and sustain a network before we even speak. If people can connect and sustain relationships remotely they are unlikely to be successful in my business.
Once a team is established it can be easy to fall out of the habit of finding out what’s happening in people’s lives. Many of the people in my team have worked together for over 10 years, but it’s still useful to check in from time to time to see what’s happening in our lives. For those who connect to me on Facebook, I get to find out about their children’s achievements, their vacations etc.. And it provides another opportunity to connect or develop a common interest.
I have several clients around the world who, like me, are keen football supporters. We often exchange texts around the performance of our teams. It’s another reason to connect and to stay in people’s minds. I believe that putting the effort into staying connected is an important component of building trust and showing that you are motivated and prepared to maintain the relationship – but the real reason I do it is because it’s fun.
In virtual teams, one of the key challenges is how to replace the short conversations that happen as people pass in the corridor or whilst waiting at the coffee machine. If we fall out of the habit of the short connections that maintain relationships we may find it harder to connect when something more substantive comes along.
By creating the opportunity for low-cost, easy connections, social media enables us to keep the heartbeat of communication pulsing strongly. These short informal communications will usually be no more than that, but occasionally they will prompt people to pick up the phone and a more substantial communication will develop.
Be aware, however, that everything you do in social media is communication: it contributes to your profile and your online reputation. As people put more and more weight onto this online reputation as an indicator of your trustworthiness, then it becomes a precious asset in your ability to get things done – guard it carefully!
[ Kevan Hall ]
Photo credit: Endareth
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Kevan is the founder and CEO of the Global Integration Group (they are international) and a key consultant. Kevan wrote Speed Lead and Making the Matrix Work and so I’m truly honoured that he would make the time to write for my little blogsite.