K2C Hints for Global Teams #1: Swift Trust - Putting Your Best Foot Forward
December 7, 2011
One of the things that we know about virtual teams is that building and maintaining trust is critical to their success. It is the force that keeps the individual atoms (team members) from flying apart in the centrifuge (their everyday workplace). We also know that trust in these environments is fragile—it breaks down easily when the full context of “presence” and “immediacy” is lacking. This fragility is exacerbated when virtual teams are communicating not only across distance, but across varying cultural perspectives. Building trust is the job of everyone on a virtual team, but launching an environment of “swift trust” is particularly critical for the team leader.
What is meant by “swift trust?” There are certain settings in which a group of people are thrown together and must function immediately without time to build a careful relationship. The classic example that is given is when a group of Emergency Medical Technicians arrive upon the scene of an accident and all must do their best without time for such mental questions as: “Do I want to work with this guy?” or “Does this woman have the background to perform that task?” Trust is immediately afforded and work proceeds. This would not be the expected dynamic in a virtual team. People who don’t know each other well, don’t see each other regularly, and who may well be in different organizations – are likely to set out with skepticism. Many of the informal bonding opportunities of face-to-face environments are just not possible. And yet, it seems that the ultimate success of a virtual team can be very tied to how well they started out. Virtual teams that get off to a good start are much more apt to weather the inevitable challenges of working across time, distance and culture. Teams that have a rocky start may never recover, or it may take a lot of effort and re-work to get things back on track once they have been de-railed.
So—this underscores the critical need for team leaders to think about team start-up. What can he or she do to ensure building as close an approximation to “Swift Trust” as possible as their team launches its work? Much like a NASA Administrator, a global team leader, should have a very specific “Launch Plan.” In our K2C Training programs we spend some time considering the range of things that can be done. Here are some examples:
- Clear statement of the team charter or mission
- Roles and responsibilities are made explicit and are understood by all
- Leader has ensured visibility and support for the work of the team in the broader organization
- A jointly created Team Communication Contract is in place and publicly endorsed by all
- A conscious plan to humanize the virtual environment and provide personal connection is in place
There are many other things that can be part of a Global Team’s “Launch Plan.” Can you add some to this list?