Think of a time when you worked on an incredible team — maybe it’s right now — or on a personal or professional project. What made it great? Some key attributes of an exceptional team are strong leadership, collaboration, communication, respect, clear objectives, and, most importantly, a team that understands and trusts one another.
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Martin Luther King Jr.
As we work in today’s virtual environment, we must make an effort to build effective relationships and communicate without meeting people in person. Admittedly, and based on my PI Behavioral Profile, I am an extrovert. I thrive off energy and innovation when talking with others face-to-face. Pre-COVID, I appreciated the time spent in someone’s office or over coffee, which allowed for “getting to know each other” and provided a glimpse into a person that went well beyond just business and agendas.
The Harvard Business Review conducted a research study on virtual working environments and found that virtual teammates are 2.5 times more likely to perceive mistrust, incompetence, broken commitments, and bad decision making with distant colleagues than those who are co-located.
So how will we build trust and successful relationships in 2021 as most of us remain remote? Our team brought on two new members at the start of the year and kicked it off with a whole team social Zoom that had no agenda. We shared about our families, our pets, funny stories, our “mantras,” we let go of our “virtual backgrounds” for our office realities, and more. It was great because it allowed us to take a step back and focus on getting to know each other better, listening to colleagues share, and understanding of and empathic to others.
When you think about building trust and relationships with a virtual team, you may consider the following strategies:
- Be proactive. Reach out to others to start the conversation.
- Use video over traditional conference calls. Video gives you the opportunity to see facial expressions, react to words and gestures, be animated, and helps you stay focused on the conversation.
- Don’t multitask!
- Never make assumptions heading into a meeting/call when getting to know someone. Do not assume anything about a person’s identity, priorities, drives, or what kind of person they are. Be aware of any unconscious bias.
- Ask open-ended questions to learn and clarifying questions to make sure you understand what they are saying and what it reflects about them as a person.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Don’t be thinking of what you want to say or checking text messages. Make sure people know that you hear them and that you value what they add to the conversation.
- Be empathetic, polite, and respectful.
- Find shared experiences or interests.
- Have virtual celebrations for personal and professional wins. Birthday celebrations are one of our team’s favorites.
- Do something beyond a call. Send them a note…yes…I mean a handwritten note with a stamp! Share an article or something you feel they will find of interest.
- Schedule a virtual “coffee” meeting with no agenda.
- Follow up and check in on how they are or what they are working on.
- It takes time and effort to build trust. Invest.
I feel time is the most important factor to consider. It takes time to build a trusted relationship. Though inherently we know this, today’s social media platforms have shifted us to the mindset that relationship building is instantaneous. Social media lets us “friend” someone with a click. When the word “friend” became a verb, our efforts put into “friending” someone changed from “we have known each other for a long time or we share this in common” to “we see each other on social media and became ‘friends.’”
Harvard professor Dr. Michael Rich (M.D.), founder and leader of The Center of Media and Child Health, shared, “I think that the biggest problem with social media is how we are using it. Essentially most of us use social media to market ourselves to the world. We go to it in hopes that it will build community, we’ll make connections with people….What really builds relationships and connections is us showing each other our vulnerabilities, showing each other the ways in which we need someone else, not the ways in which we are a prize for someone else.”
Take time to consider how you will nurture trust, create effective communications, and establish collaboration. By taking the time, you will be better equipped with your team to have accountability, conflict management, achieve outcomes and establish trust and understanding.
MCG Partners a woman-owned consultancy specializing in leadership, team and organizational development solutions. We help businesses optimize success through the entire management life-cycle. MCG Partners is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner. To learn more please contact Stephanie Holmgren at [email protected] and at mcgpartners.com.