Does Your Remote Team Lack Trust? Here’s How To Build Some.

Trust is a main ingredient in any manager’s recipe for a successful team. When you throw in a lack of face-to-face interactions, time differences, and the geographic distances of remote teams, trust is even more vital.

Muhammad Yasir and Abdul Majid detail how concepts of trust can fit into the different stages of building a “virtual organization” or remote team.

In their article, “A methodical study of the role of trust at various development stages of virtual organizations” they fit trust into Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s theory of team development. Tuckman outlined four stages of group development:

  1. Forming: Information sharing about tasks and roles
  2. Storming: Conflict to determine responsibilities and objectives
  3. Norming: Establishment of standards and norms for the successful completion of a project
  4. Performing: Accomplishment of the project objectives through collaboration

Yasir and Majid pulled out the following concepts of trust from the existing literature:

    • Swift trust: A tentative, stereotypical trust that team members extend at the beginning of a project where they have no choice but to share information and work together
    • Calculus based/economy based trust: Trust based on the rewards of trusting each other to successfully complete a project (or the punishment that comes with not getting it done)
  • Knowledge based/competence based trust: Trust that’s built on the recognition that someone else knows how to do the job gained either by working with them or hearing their reputation
  • Identification based trust: Trust built on personal identification or attachment to another person based on non-business sentiments like shared values

Among the many definitions of trust described by academics who study management, Yasir and Majid identified these four as the ones that play a clear role in the different stages of team building outlined by Tuckman.

At the forming stage, members rely on swift trust based on their superficial assumptions of others. This could be based on how a person dresses, speaks, or conducts themselves. Yasir and Majid describe this trust as an important part of the forming stage despite its superficiality since it allows disparate people to come together and create a team.

At the storming stage, team members rely on calculus based or economy based trust. There is a real risk of the entire endeavor falling apart if parties don’t work together. If their chances of future employment relies on the successful completion of the project, each person has no choice but to trust their team members enough to productively collaborate with them and assign responsibilities.

Knowledge based or competence based trust crops up during the norming stage when members decide how work will be completed, what the appropriate methods of cooperation are, and who will be responsible for different tasks. At this stage, team members use their understanding of what other parties are capable of to mediate these relationships.

Finally, identification based trust begins to form at the performing stage when team members develop interpersonal relationships beyond the objectives of the project.

How does this research help remote team leaders?

A remote team leader knows that trust is important, but may be at a loss for how to cultivate it. As this research shows, “type” of trust and timing is relevant. For instance, a leader who recognizes their team is in the storming stage of team building knows that it’s the best time to heavily impress upon everyone the stakes involved in the project because this is the motivation that’ll be most impactful.

Whether or not you agree with Yasir and Majid’s take, thinking about team building as a process or a science as opposed to a game of chance will help you execute more successful projects.

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