My monthly tip for virtual leaders: strengthen what members of virtual teams need most

One more difference between co-located and virtual teams is the need for trust

Together with one of our associate partners I have been involved in piloting a new programme for teams who are going through major changes or are faced with disruptions in their industry. We call this programme: Navigating a Team through Uncertainty.

Due to the pandemic none of the teams we have been in touch with is currently co-located and those who have not been working as a virtual team before are slowly getting used to remote collaboration while working from home. Hence, the delivery took place through online channels, using a combination of online communication as well as collaboration platforms.

Our "Aha"-Moment

One remarkably interesting moment in the delivery of this workshop format was right at the beginning, during check-in. Talking about what participants need for the workshop but also for the team to work best together all of them stated Trust as the number one item!
You could argue that this is nothing new. However, for a team who has been working together for a while coming back to this point of needing trust shows that there is a longing for more.

One dynamic that possibly boosts the emphasis on trust in a virtual context is an amplifying effect of every single event or activity in a virtual context. In this case, it is applicable especially to negative experiences, that are massively enhanced or even exaggerated in the perception (cognitively but more so emotionally) of people involved or affected by it.

So, experiencing the disruption through the current pandemic or any other disruptive dynamics in the industry, members of virtual teams need much deeper trust relationships to overcome the anxiety of fear driven by uncertainty in order to function well as a team.
This insight triggered my thinking to re-share elements of a blog I have published a couple of years ago about this one essential ingredient I have kept in focus when leading a virtual team: TRUST.

Trust between virtual team members is essential.

The one essential

The best you can do when leading over distance is actually very simple:

Develop and keep trust at a high level in your team.

Trust in a team has many facets. Stephen Covey, in his book Speed of Trust, has brilliantly laid out the key components of trust and behaviours that help fostering it. It ranges from trusting in each other’s competencies, each other’s commitments to doing a good job and in each other as a person. All these elements can be addressed separately or as a mix.

So, the real question is: how can you develop all these elements in order to develop or enhance the level of trust in your virtual team?

Step 1: Self-assessment

I always start with an honest self-assessment of my behaviour related to these facets of trust. What are my self-set traps I tend to fall into? And what are my development areas I need to keep in mind to ensure I can uphold high standards in these elements? And: I own them!
I have seen leaders pretending to be competent in a particular area for which they have taken on a new responsibility in the hope to gain respect and recognition as a leader fast. Their interaction, however, revealed quickly that it was more pretence than substance what they displayed. This is a killer for trust.

Step2: Impact of my behaviour on trust in my surrounding

In a further step I scrutinise how much my behaviour serves as a positive example of creating strong relationships and enhancing trust in my direct context.
Hence, I ask myself: Do I foster empathy and compassion as key element of personal trust? 
 As a leader I always need to remember that I set the tone in my team!
In addition, I ask myself: How much do I inspire the people working with and for me? Do I provide a deeper meaning for what they are engaged in? How much can they resonate with my passion for the work we are doing? Everyone needs to know that what they are doing is not just killing time but actually part of something important.

Step 3: Quality of relationships and connection amongst members in the team

Moving from my own behaviour to the team interaction, I ask myself whether we spend enough time to socialise and enhance the quality of personal relationships, thus, growing the social cohesion amongst team members? Do the formats of interaction support a trustful exchange amongst them? I am also addressing this in the team and ask what they need to deepen the trust amongst each other and as a team.

In previous blogs I have also mentioned how to celebrate with a team in a virtual context or socialise without feeling the pressure of a meeting agenda suppressing personal exchanges.
Both are equally valuable when trying to make virtual working more effective, accepted and even enjoyable for everyone.

Nobody is perfect!

Am I perfect in all of this to grow trust? Of course not!
However, I have high aspirations to develop my leadership competencies and I see it as essential to enhance my ability to grow in my virtual setting and become more effective. I think the most important aspect is to reflect regularly and question my approach of leading my virtual team and how this helps to foster and maintain trust.
And I would always recommend that to everyone in a similar situation.


Members of virtual teams experience an even stronger need for trust than co-located ones!
It starts with you as a leader reflecting your own behaviour with brutal honesty to what extend you are leading by example for trustworthy relationships, also paying attention to showing empathy and compassion with the members of your team.
And finally, are you having the most appropriate formats of interaction in place through which you can foster social cohesion and trust in your team?

And if you want to discuss your particular situation in more detail feel free to …

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