Lost in Connection or not? Trust and belonging in a virtual team

Aug 15, 2020 | #remotework, #virtualmeetings

🚀 Become a #virtualspacehero 

Key takeaways from a #virtualspacehero LinkedIn LIVE
07.08.2020 | 13:00 CET

Trust and belonging in a virtual team

with Andy Swann (Founder MAT Studiosand Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (#virtualspacehero)

If you as a team leader want a virtual team to perform at its best, you must consider the role played by trust shared between colleagues of a virtual team. We know that teams do not really work well when team members don’t trust one another. For a leader, building and maintaining trust in the traditional, physical workplace is difficult enough, but the process gets even tougher in the virtual space. In global virtual teams people often have to work with people they haven’t met in person (Ferrazzi 2012). 

We discussed the intriguing questions on trust and belonging in a virtual team and how we can build trust in a virtual team? Andy Swann (Founder MAT Studios) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (#virtualspacehero) in-depth  👇

Why Virtual Team Building Matters?

Not many managers focus on good team building, even though studies show that the most productive teams are those with high levels of trust (Flavian et al. 2019). Team managers sometimes assume that remote workers don’t really care about connecting with their co-workers. Besides, we tend to be very task-driven in the virtual space and often forget about “the relationship factor”.

„An important element in virtual teams is diversity. Trust is not enough if you have a group of the same people. Diversity brings new ideas.“ (Andy Swann)

That being said, there’s tons of reasons why team-building among your remote workers should be on top of your agenda. For virtual teams it might be more difficult to build rapport  as they may have never met “in real life.” But developing good working relationships is important for individuals to feel able to communicate openly, solve problems, and collaborate well. It can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.

„But, without trust there is no creativity. Creativity is only possible if there is a group of people trusting each other.“ (Barbara Covarrubias Venegas)

During our conversation we discussed five strategies for managers of virtual teams that can be considered as good starting points.

What is important when leading virtual teams?

One of the fundamentals of leadership is doing what is right for your people! Now we have the option: work from home or work from the office as many organisations continue to work partly remote. Now we have these options, but we must leverage them and create the best options for our people! For trust building in a virtual space, communication is the key! Practice and constantly try to improve communication with the team and encourage them to do the same. How to Build Trust in a Virtual Workplace

“The best people to tell you what they want and need, are your own people – don’t forget to involve them in the process.” (Andy Swann)

💡 Respect as the basis. To build trust you firstly need to build respect within your team in all directions. Everyone should respect each individual and their role within the organization. 💡 Set and follow-up on clear goals. Every organization is unique. Most importantly, all team members need to work towards set goals and this might be more challenging if you communicate goals via mail or during a video conference with maybe bad connection. Therefore, check twice that everyone “is on the same page”. Besides, do also 1:1 check-ins with your colleagues, a very powerful tool. Have faith in your people. You as a leader need to have faith that your teammates can get the job done and vice versa. The team should have trust in the leader and expect support.

„You cannot have the same leadership style with everybody because people are different. What works for one person might not work for someone else. That’s why we have to adopt our leadership styles to each and every person individually. And this can be achieved only through communication and trust building“ (Barbara Covarrubias Venegas)

💡 Connect with your team on a regular basis. There are many possibilities to create a pleasant work atmosphere, even online. Try to support your team even when you are not in the same room. Use communication channels wisely, e.g. slack channel for formal communication with sub-channels for different topics, but also create a communication channel for informal exchange. E.g. a whatsapp group to share “monday-morning-pictures” or the wednesday lunch picture. A gif-challenge in your team’s whatsapp group, e.g. creating even your own gifs to a specific fun question/topic.

💡 Get to know your team better. Virtual connection can be challenging. However, there are many creative ways of getting to know your teammates. For example, learn what motivates them, go on a virtual coffee break with the team or do a virtual team building. Find also further ideas in the following article Seven Principles for Leading Virtual Teams Effectively. Most importantly, don’t forget about the check-in during your regular team meetings. The moment we are in the virtual space, we are very task driven and forget about the relationships. Read here in one of our previous #virtualspacehero blog posts about “Heaven or hell? How can I run better meetings in the virtual space?”

💡 Involve your team in important decisions. Decision making is crucial in a virtual team. The process of how we come to a decision must be very clear and transparent. Team decisions sometimes take much longer, but they are also more long-lasting in their effects. Making Decisions That Stick 

Conclusion: Trust is going both ways. 

If you as a leader don’t trust your team that they will do the work even when they have flexible working hours you cannot expect them to trust you in return. Show people that you trust them with given tasks and that you support their way of working and you will notice the positive outcome. 

“Who is the best person to tell me how I am going to do my best work today? It is me. If somebody tells me i have to come to office hours from 9-5, i would not be able to work well” (Andy Swann)

“The Human Workplace offers a thoughtful and incisive examination of our complicated relationship with our work, its meaning and our attitudes. In this comprehensively researched book, Andy Swann considers the full scope of how we work, from the interpersonal to the networks and communities on which we rely, and how this is translating into today’s society. In an age of digitization and artificial intelligence, Swann repeatedly finds that applying our shared humanity is the most important element of a high-performing workplace. From case studies to personal reflections, he explores engaging workplace comparisons and finds ingenuity at work in work.”, Tim Pointer, former HR Director, Dixons Carphone and Founder, Starboard Thinking

💡 Resources 💡

Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): Heaven or hell? How can I run better meetings in the virtual space?, #virtualspacehero Blog here
Naief, Kadidja and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2020): Remote Work Guidelines: How to Work From Home or Anywhere Else Effectively, Vienna Global Leaders Blog here
Michael D. Watkins (2013): Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles, Harvard Business Review.

Trust in a virtual team
Ferrazzi, Keith (2012): How to Build Trust on Your Virtual Team, Harvard Business Review.
Handy, Charles (1995): Trust and the Virtual Organization, Harvard Business Review.
Flavian, C., Guinalíu, M. and Jordan, P. (2019), “Antecedents and consequences of trust on a virtual team leader“, European Journal of Management and Business Economics, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 2-24. 
Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C. S., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G. F. (2009). Does Team Building Work? Small Group Research, 40(2), 181–222. 
Nancy Settle-Murphy: Making Decisions That Stick 

Remote Team Building Activities
Jason Mario on Weekdone: 10 (Not Lame) Virtual Team Building Activities
Jesse Sussmann on Museumshack: The 37 Best Virtual Team Building Activities in the World (Ranked)
Mindtools Virtual: Team Building Exercises. Building Connections When You’re Working Remotely
Sarah Goff-Dupot on Atlassian (2020): The best virtual team building activities, according to full-time remote workers
Anna Savina on Miro (2020): Remote Team Building: 15 Virtual Games & Activities to Build Team Cohesion

Andy Swann

Andy Swann

Andy created MAT Studios to support large, complex organizations in creating tomorrow, today and follow his passion through Andy Swann – Human at Work.

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Tamara Mladenovic

Tamara Mladenovic





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