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How to Build Trust in your Virtual Team

Learn proven, practical techniques to build the levels of trust that your virtual team needs to succeed.
Korrine Jones
87 students enrolled
English [Auto-generated]
Build a high trust, high performing virtual team
Understand how trust is built and broken in virtual teams
Leverage swift trust to build real, enduring trust within their team
Implement eight practical techniques to build trust in their virtual team
Create shared goals with their team
Develop a set of agreed ground rules for their team
Create communication protocols for their virtual team
Manage virtual team meetings effectively
Develop strong team relationships
Increase the collaboration and productivity in their virtual team through enhanced levels of trust

Did you know that a failure to build trust is the number one reason for breakdowns in communication and failure to succeed in virtual teams and less than half of all virtual teams actually achieve their objectives? If you are a leader or member of a virtual team and a lack of trust is getting in the way of your ability to achieve as a team, this course will give you eight practical techniques to create the trust that your virtual team needs.

Here is what a recent student had to say about the course:

"I write about research that's conducted by teams who are often dispersed across the world. This course has helped me understand why sometimes I have difficulty connecting/sharing meaning with members of a team. Although I am not always part of the team, I need to gain their trust and this course offers some excellent tips for what I can do to build trust with people I'll probably never meet face to face. Korrine is very easy to listen to and her slides are very easy to comprehend." Leanne W.

All the techniques covered in the course are very practical and easy to implement. They are based on my 12 years experience as a virtual team leader, plus the experience of hundreds of virtual team leaders and members that I have trained, consulted to, worked with and interviewed. They are proven to work!

By taking this course, you will understand the type of trust that tends to build in virtual teams and the importance of leveraging this swift trust to build real, enduring trust. The good news is that it is possible to build real trust across the team, even without meeting your team mates face to face, and this course will show you how.

You will learn eight proven, practical techniques for developing trust in a virtual team, all in less than one hour!

After learning these strategies, you will be able to create shared goals in your team, agree on ground rules, develop communication protocols, manage effective virtual meetings and build strong team relationships. The course includes quizzes to consolidate your learning and a number of example documents and checklists, to assist you along the way. By completing this course, you will be able to bullet proof your team by building the levels of trust it needs to succeed.

Welcome to the course


Is it possible to build real trust with your team members, even if you don’t ever meet face to face? By the end of this course you will know that it is possible and, better still, you will know how to do it.

During this course I am going to give you eight practical strategies that you can use to build trust in your virtual or dispersed team.

Did you know that a lack of trust is the most common reason for breakdowns in communication and failure to deliver in virtual teams? So, once you’ve taken this course, you will be able to bullet proof your virtual team by establishing and maintaining the levels of trust that it needs to succeed.

The tips you will learn in this course come from my own experience in leading virtual teams and real life lessons from the 100s virtual team leaders and members that I have trained, worked with and interviewed, so they are proven to work.

Whether you are a leader or member of a work team, study team or volunteer team, you will find the content of this course very relevant, practical and simple to implement.

So, congratulations on taking the plunge. Let’s get started!

Overview of the course

This lecture will give you an overview of each of the topics to be covered in this course.

The course has been broken up into three main sections.

We’ll start by discussing the challenges of building trust in a virtual or dispersed team and look at why it sometimes feels so hard. We’ll then take a look at swift trust, a specific type of trust that builds very easily within virtual teams. This will help you to understand why everything might have felt as though it was all going along swimmingly with the team at first, but then something seemed to go wrong and cracks started to appear, communication breakdowns occurred and deadlines were missed.

Once you understand swift trust and why it is important to go beyond swift trust to real trust, we will get on to the most exciting part of the course. You will learn 8 simple and practical strategies you can implement in your team to build real, enduring trust, that type of trust that will help your team to achieve and maintain high levels of performance. Now, 8 is a pretty big number and you may be thinking that you don’t have the time to put all of these tips in place. The good news is that, even if you only put three or four of them in place, it will make an enormous positive difference to the trust levels in your virtual team.

Defining virtual teams

By the end of this lecture, you will have a definition for virtual teams and understand the range of virtual teams that exist.

A virtual team is a group of individuals who work together across time, space, and/or organisational boundaries and communicate via information and communication technology. It is also often referred to as a dispersed, distributed or remote team.

Did you know that even a team co-located on the same floor in the same office building can fall into this category? They may work different shifts, and therefore not see each other for weeks at a time. Or, they may be so dispersed across the floor that they seldom see each other face to face. Recent research has shown that people who are only 50 feet away from each other don’t talk to each other face to face. So, virtual teams can span anywhere from fifty feet apart to across the city, country or globe. They can be brought together temporarily to work on short term projects or they can be permanent teams together for up to several years. It may be the entire team working remotely or a few team members co-located with others working remotely. So, virtual teams come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. They key factor is that they are not all in the same place at the same time.

The challenges of building trust virtually

Defining trust

So, what is trust?

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, trust is the reliance on the integrity of a person and confidence in their ability or intention to do something and to trust is to depend on or rely on someone.

In the context of a virtual team, this means that to trust a team member is rely on them to be able to perform their role and deliver what is expected.

Why we need trust in virtual teams

By the end of this lecture you will understand how important it is for virtual teams to develop high levels of trust to be able to achieve their goals.

A lack of trust is the most common reason for breakdowns in communication and failure to deliver in virtual teams. A study undertaken by RW3 in 2012 found that while up to 87% of the global workforce is now working remotely at least part of the time, 40% of virtual team members feel their teams are under-performing, and a lack of trust is a key reason for this failure to perform.

When we’re working remotely we can’t see what our team members are doing on a day to day basis. So, if your team member doesn’t answer your call, email or instant message, you start to wonder where they are and if, in fact, they are even at work. Maybe they’re out shopping, playing golf or having coffee with friends. This then starts to breed mistrust. Add to this a failure to deliver on a particular task and you really start to wonder whether you can trust this team mate at all. Once trust is broken, we feel we can’t rely on this team member, which then creates tension and apprehension between team members.

On the other hand, it can be very lonely working remotely, particularly if some other team members are located together. If team members don’t contact you, this loneliness can fester and turn in resentment if you feel you are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. This will also lead to a lack of trust.

Hi trust virtual teams deliver. Teams that a highly active in building trust are also have high levels of team performance. So, in a nutshell, trust is the make or break of a virtual team.

The statistics of communication

In this lecture you will learn about the Mehrabian principle. By the end of the lecture, you will know the elements that make up interpersonal communication and understand the importance of non-verbal communication in clarifying meaning and building trust.

In the 1960s Professor Albert Mehrabian studied the way in which humans communicate and the part that non-verbal communication plays in our ability to understand the meanings and feelings behind a spoken message.

He found that only 7% of a message is contained in the actual words of the message. 38% of the message is contained in the tone of voice and 55% of the meaning is determined from the non-verbals of the person speaking.

So, this explains why it can be so hard work out true meaning, and why we so often jump to conclusions, when we receive a message via email or text. It’s because we’re only getting 7% of the message. And, when we don’t have the tone and non-verbals behind a message, we tend to make them up. Depending on the history we have had with the other person, this can be a total misinterpretation, which can often break down any trust between us.

Building trust without face to face contact

By the end of this lecture you will be confident that it is possible to build real trust without face to face contact.

A lot that has been written about high performing virtual teams emphasises the importance of meeting face to face early in the team’s life to build relationships and trust. This is because with need at 55% of the communication process to truly get to understand what a person is saying to us. It has been found that, if teams do meet face to face early in their life, they will build real trust much more rapidly.

However, many of us never get to meet our virtual team members, so is it possible to build trust without meeting them? My experience has been that it is possible to build trust, but it takes effort and focus. I have worked with a number of high trust virtual teams who have never met, but trust and relationships building is always at the front of their minds.

A study undertaken at the Memorial University in Canada, which researched whether it is possible to build rapport (the prerequisite for real trust) in distance education. They found that it is possible, but must be premeditated, consciously promoted and can only be achieved with (dedicated) work (Murphy and Rodriquez-Manzanares, January 2012).

So, it is possible to build trust without face to face contact, but it’s going to need a little effort and focus.

Swift trust

This lecture will define swift trust, how it is built and how it is broken. By the end of the lecture you will understand the dynamics of swift trust and how important it is to leverage swift trust to build real, enduring trust within a virtual team.

Virtual teams build a type of trust termed ‘swift trust’ early in their life. This is a form of trust, also known as cognitive trust, which is developed very quickly based on our understanding of a person’s background, experience and expertise. If a person seems to have the knowledge and expertise needed to do the job, we tend to trust that we can rely on them to do their job well and play their part in the team.

However, one wrong move, one broken promise or one failure to follow through, and that trust will be just as swiftly broken. So, swift trust is a great way for virtual teams to quickly build trust, but it’s a very tentative and fragile type of trust.

Because of the tentative nature of swift trust, it is not sufficient for virtual teams in the long term. Virtual teams need to use the platform of swift trust to build real trust, also known as affective trust, if they are going to achieve and maintain high levels of performance.

Conclusion to section 2

This lecture will provide a summary of the topics that have been covered in Section 2 and prepare you to complete the Section 2 quiz.

So far we’ve talked about the importance of building trust, the swift trust that builds automatically in virtual teams, how easily that swift trust can be broken and how it is important to work beyond swift trust to build real, enduring trust.

I mentioned earlier that it is possible to build real trust without face to face contact. So, how do we do it? I hear you ask. In the next section I will go through 8 practical tips for building trust in your virtual team.

The challenges of building trust virtually

This quiz will test whether you now have an understanding of why it is difficult, but also why it is important to build trust in your virtual team.

Proven tips for building real trust in virtual teams

The top eight tips for building trust in your virtual team

This lecture will provide a preview of the eight strategies for building trust that will be covered in this section of the course.

Here are the eight strategies:

Create clear goals

Develop agreed ground rules

Agree on communication protocols

Meet often - virtually

Develop one on one relationships

Clarify needs and expectations

Replicate water cooler conversations

Create rituals and symbols

This might feel like of lot of things to do, but they are all pretty simple to implement. Plus, you may not need to follow every step. So, choose those that you feel would be the easiest and most important for you to implement in your team. Choosing even three or four of these strategies will go a very long way to maximising the levels of trust in your team. Good luck!

Create clear goals

By the end of this lecture you will have a process that you can use to develop shared goals within your virtual team.

All teams need clear goals to operate effectively. In virtual teams, where team members are often operating in isolation, goals become even more important. For virtual teams, the goals also need to be easily understood by all team members and published in a place where they are easily accessible for all team members.

If you want shared ownership and understanding of your team goals, I it is very important to involve all your team members in developing the goals. This lecture contains a process to get everyone involved in goal setting.

Start by asking each team member to answer some specific questions regarding the purpose of the team. Once every team member has written down their answers to these questions, ask them to highlight key words from all their answers, compile these into a list and create a mind map from them. You can then use the key themes in your mind map to identify your team goals.

Your goals will be most powerful if they follow the SMART principle.

Once you have your team goals set, you can then agree on goals and roles for each team member by creating an action plan for achieving your goals and deciding on who will be responsible for each action. This is covered further in my upcoming course on managing remote workers.

Then publish them in a place and format that everyone can access from their own workstation. This will help to keep everyone on track when working remotely.

Develop agreed ground rules

By the end of this lecture you will know how useful ground rules can be in building trust and have some examples and a process to develop agreed ground rules within your virtual team.

Ground rules relate to the way in which you will communicate, behave and interact within the team, in order to achieve your goals. Again, these are useful for all teams, but particularly important for teams working across distance and time.

Many teams and organisations develop team values or charters, which contain a set of important words such as teamwork, leadership, innovation, customer service and integrity. These are all great words, but they are very open to different interpretations. For this reason, it is important for your team to work past single word values, to identifying ground rules which define the behaviour that you expect of each other.

I have attached an example of team values and ground rules in the supplementary materials for this lecture. But, please only use these as a guide. Team ground rules are very unique to every team and need to be developed by the team for team members to want to operate by them.

So, develop them as a team and then, very importantly, ask every team member to commit to operating by the ground rules. Once they’ve been agreed to make sure provide everybody with a copy to keep by their workstation and refer to them regularly, at the beginning of virtual team meetings, and review and update them as you have new members join the team to make sure they remain relevant.

Agree on communication protocols

By the end of this lecture, you will understand the importance of communication protocols and have examples to assist you in developing communication protocols with your team.

Breakdowns in communication are a very common reason for destroying the trust in virtual teams and an over-reliance on email can be fraught with danger. Because people often just send out an email and expect an immediate response they become quite frustrated and start to mistrust team members when that response doesn’t come straight back. The tyranny of email, along with the frustrations of poorly managed virtual team meetings, make the development of communication protocols a very important step in building and maintaining trust in your virtual team.

I have attached an example set of communication protocols in the supplementary materials so that you can see the types of items other teams include in their protocols. But, once again, please only use this as a guide and make sure you develop a set of protocols that relates to your team.

It is also important to make sure every team member has a set of the protocols at their work station and a good idea to refer to them at the beginning of every virtual team meeting and even put them up on the welcome screen for any web and video based virtual team meetings.

Meet often - virtually

By the end of this lecture you will be able to implement processes to ensure your virtual team meetings are effective.

Make sure you meet virtually, often. Many successful virtual teams have a weekly or fortnightly teleconference or video conference and then one on one catch ups in between. The technology you use for your virtual meetings is totally up to you and your team mates.

While teleconferences are very useful for sharing information and updating team members on team progress, I do suggest that you try to have video based virtual meetings as often as possible.

If you have team members in different time zones, think about what you can do to share around the late night and early morning meeting times for team members.

I suggest that you emphasise the importance of attending the virtual team meetings, so that all team members attend as many meetings as possible. To ensure that team members want to attend, also think about how you manage your meetings. These best virtual team meetings are Short, Structured, Focused and Engaging.

Have an agenda for every team meeting and ask a team member to chair each meeting. Rotating the role of meeting chair is a great way of engaging your remote team members. Keep the meeting short and sharp and ask your chair to be time focused and structured in the way they chair the meeting. Use team member names and keep checking on with all team members to ensure they have the opportunity to contribute to the meeting. I have attached a checklist for effective virtual team meetings and will cover this topic in much more depth in a soon to be released course on managing virtual team meetings.

Some form of ice breaker, check in or team building activity at the beginning or during each virtual team meeting will also accelerate the trust building process.

Develop one on one relationships

By the end of this lecture you will have a set of tips to help you build trusting one on one relationships with each of your team mates.

A team is made up of a series of one on one relationships and we often find it harder to build trust with some team members than with others.

The first thing you need to do is to focus on the importance of building those one on one relationships. Spend some time each week interacting individually with each of your team members. To get to real trust, you need to know a person, who they are, a little about their background, what makes them tick, what interests them outside of work and what motivates them. So, it is important to spend time getting to know each team member by having some social chat in each of your one on one conversations. You can chat via instant messaging, telephone or videoconference. Make sure you choose the tool that you both prefer and chat often.

Most importantly, ask them questions about themselves and remember what they have told you. Some team members will naturally be more open than others, but you will find that as the openness builds, the trust builds and then the openness builds further, which in turn creates more trust, and so on.

A final and very important tip on building one on one relationships is to focus on those team members who are most remote. These are the people who can most easily fall off our radar and feel left out of the team, so we need to pay particular attention to them.

Clarify needs and expectations

By the end of this lecture you will understand the importance of clarifying needs and expectations with team mates and have a process to help you do so within your team.

Key to building relationships at work are the needs and expectations we take to work with us each day. We have needs and expectations of our work, our manager and the people we work with. If these needs and expectations are met, we tend to be engaged in our work and trust the people around us. However, if these needs and expectations are not met, the trust is broken. BUT how many of us find out what our team members’ needs and expectations are and how many of us let our team mates know what we need and expect from them.

If we haven’t told your team mates what you need and expect from them, how on earth can you expect them to deliver on those.

So, I suggest a very simple conversation. Arrange one on one conversations with your team leader and team members. I suggest you give them some forward notice so that they can prepare for the discussion. Start by asking them what they need and expect from you. You may need to negotiate on some items, but it is important to agree on what you can deliver. Then, let them know what you need and expect from them and negotiate until you have agreement.

I have included a questionnaire in the supplementary materials for this lecture to help you to prepare for this conversation. Good luck with it. You might find some of the needs and expectations a little surprising, and you might need to negotiate on what you can deliver on, but I’m sure you find it a very interesting and useful conversation.

Replicate water cooler conversations

This lecture will give you ideas for replicating water cooler conversations within your virtual team.

When we work in face to face teams, relationships and trust are built through the informal, incidental conversations we have at the water cooler, in the hallway or in the kitchen. In virtual teams, we don’t have these opportunities for spontaneous chats, so we need to replicate them. Here are four ideas I have gathered from high trust virtual teams for replicating water cooler conversations.

Instant messaging

Virtual coffee meetings

Purely social telephone conversations

Social media

So, however, you choose to do it, finding opportunities to replicate water cooler conversations will enormously to the working relationships and trust across your team.

Create rituals and symbols

By the end of this lecture, you will understand the power of rituals and symbols in building trust and have some processes you can use to integrate rituals and symbols into your virtual team.

Rituals and symbols are a powerful way of building bonds of trust across your team. Rituals and symbols determine the culture within the team and connect team members. Here are three examples:

A team of archaeologists, anthropologists and cultural heritage experts, spread across the continent, made a map that spanned the geographic spread of their team. Each team member then created an avatar, or symbol, that represented their location and role within the team and placed their avatar on their location on the team map and told the team about where they live, what they do and what this means to them. Each team member now has a copy of that image at their workstation as a reminder of their ritual. The team members talk about the power of that ritual in terms of building a strong sense of team and how having the map at their workstations helps to keep them connected to the rest of the team. While this example involved a face to face meeting, you can use a very similar process via technology, using a shared document.

Another example of a ritual is that used by Yum! brands. To start each staff meeting, all employees all do the YUM! cheer. Everyone participates, every time, with everything they have. A ritual such as this one is very easily incorporated into a virtual team meeting.

You could take a photo of the entire team or create a collage of photos of all team members and provide this to each team member to keep at their workstation as a reminder of

To implement team rituals and symbols, choose something that is unique to your team, that links with the organisation’s culture and that your team members will be happy to engage in and inspired by.

Conclusion to section 3

This lecture will provide you with an overview of the topics covered in Section 3 and prepared you to complete the Section 3 quiz.

They eight strategies are:

Create clear goals

Develop agreed ground rules

Agree on communication protocols

Meet often – virtually and keep your virtual meetings short and sharp

Develop one on one relationships

Clarify needs and expectations

Replicate water cooler conversations

Create rituals and symbols

Implementing all eight strategies will take some time and focus. So, choose three or four to implement first. Choose the ones you think are most important and the easiest to implement first.

Now don't forget to take the Section 3 quiz to consolidate your knowledge on these strategies.

Building trust in virtual teams

This quiz will test your knowledge on the tactics you can implement to build trust in your virtual team.


Course summary

This lecture summarises the topics and strategies covered within the course.

We started by defining virtual teams and trust. You learned about why it is important to build trust in virtual and dispersed teams and confirmed that it is possible to do, even without meeting face to face.

You then learned about swift trust, what it is, how it is built, how easy it is broken and how important it is to leverage this swift trust to go on to build real trust across the team.

We then got to the exciting part of the course, covering eight practical steps you can take to build real trust in your virtual team.

It has been a pleasure delivering this course for you. Don't forget the checklists and templates I have included as supplemental materials to help you along your way.

Good luck with implementing these tips into your team. I know you will find them very useful in building the trust that your team needs to deliver.

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