Why does trust matter in a virtual team?


As the impact of the first UK lockdown hit, many businesses were forced to switch, overnight, from the comfort of the traditional office environment to virtual working. For some, this was unfamiliar territory and there was apprehension about trusting remote teams to work effectively.

How do we define trust?

Patrick Lencioni, who devised a pyramid model to illustrate the five characteristics of a cohesive team, defines trust in terms of vulnerability — if team members are comfortable being open about their mistakes and weaknesses because they know they have the support of their colleagues, performance will improve.

Once trust is established as a foundation, teams have confidence to tackle conflict resolution, and this leads to a firm commitment to each other and to the team’s purpose. Then they hold each other accountable and this accountability gets results.

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Why does trust matter?

In today’s workplace people need to be proactive, creative, able to take ownership and be confident in prototyping ideas. Team members need a level of openness to challenge and a willingness to co-create with others. Trust underpins all of that — unless you can win and feel trust, it’s difficult to maximise the resources you have in your team.

Charles Brook, Founder and Managing Partner at TPC Leadership, often refers to how our  company has worked virtually for 20 years. Part of our USP has been to offer employees the space to live their lives as they wish, trusting they will make sure clients are happy. “We don’t measure inputs, we measure outputs,” Charles explains. “I’ve only had one experience in that time where trust was given and results weren’t delivered.”

Organisations who have been thrown into virtual working because of the pandemic have had similar experiences — they had to trust their people to work virtually and consequently found they worked effectively, and in some cases exceeded expectations, without the burden of constant evaluation.

One concern for Charles is that organisations will try and leverage software to monitor people working virtually and that this will undermine the trust it can inspire. Removing trust from the core of your virtual teams risks stifling their creativity and productivity.

How to create trust

Charles explains that “trust is not a given — it takes time and effort to create it.” New teams can tend to bypass that and focus on results. But when this happens Lencioni’s pyramid is upended, and teams lose the stability and productivity that comes from the trust at its foundation.

“Remember that teams are made up of people and people need good relationships with those around them” Charles says. “It’s difficult to think beyond results, but by taking time to build relationships, you are securing the foundations of trust. The results will follow.”

“I always start off by asking everyone in the team what’s going on for them — I want to hear what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling,” Charles explains. It’s about giving employees and leaders the opportunity to share vulnerability and grow trust with each other.

Catherine Bardwell, TPC Associate Partner, recalls the impact of sharing her vulnerability as a leader at a training event. Having just received a message that a friend was passing away, Catherine had the courage to share how she was feeling at that moment. This inspired her trainees to offer deep insights about themselves as leaders and a foundation of mutual trust and growth was established.

Trust improves ROI

The bottom line is that investing in trust will positively impact your ROI. When built on trust, teams will be more functional, creative, engaged and committed. Team members will hold each other accountable and achieve better results.

If you’d like to sign-up for our free virtual teams training modules you can register here.

Looking for insight on developing your virtual teams? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

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