As we've discussed before, there are three components that build trust on a team: having common goals, seeing proof of competence and having proof of motives.
Perhaps the toughest of these to develop is proof of motives - does everyone on the team want what they want for the same reasons? Do you have faith that they will be there for you when you need them?
After all, making sure everyone shares the same goals is fairly easy, at least at the beginning of a project or the launch of a team when the bloom is still on the rose, and everyone's excited and focused. With a little time, competence can be established. If there's a deadline, and it gets met, I guess those people in Dallas/ Reading/ Uzbekhistan really do know what they're doing after all.
Where many of us struggle is developing faith in people's motives: are they really as committed to the team (and my?) success as I am? Are they going to give our project the priority it deserves or are they going to constantly put the needs of their local (i.e. their "real" boss) above ours?
We start to trust each other's motives over time. But how can we jumpstart that process when we don't get to see each other and we're working remotely? Here are some tips:
1. If the other two steps are in line, the odds are the motives will be assumed. If deadlines are being met and the quality of work is good, people assume that it's because people are aligned with your motives. If things start to go wrong, we begin to wonder why. That's when mistrust comes in.
2. We tend to trust the motives of people who voluntarily help us. As a leader, it's tempting to do the hard work of passing on information or asking for help on behalf of another team member. Don't do it. If someone needs something from the team in Bangalore, ask the individual members to reach out themselves. The more often there is real communication between team members, the more the barriers will fall. If someone helps you out, even if they have never met you, it begins to set a tone of mutual reliance that becomes trust.
3. Technology can help. One of the biggest assets you have as a team is your collective wisdom, but many teams struggle to capture and share knowledge among the team. Asynchronous tools like team blogs, social media like team Facebook pages, and shared file sites such as Ning or Sharepoint allow team members to answer each other's questions and share ideas.
Volunteering an answer to another team member's question, especially if it's not specifically sought, goes a long way. If people volunteer their expertise or their comments, help others find the answers they need and encourage each other with comments, you quickly build a camaraderie that has impact well beyond the immediate problem.
4. A nudge in the right direction goes a long way. As a leader, are you automatically answering questions yourself or could you say to someone with a specific expertise, "why don't you see if so-and-so needs a hand with this?" Many team members don't feel they can approach each other if they don't know each other well. A well-timed answer or suggestion creates a grateful attitude that becomes real trust quickly.
What are the opportunities you have on your team to demonstrate that everyone wants the team's success? What are the barriers? As a leader and a manager, your job is to help create the environment that helps your team thrive.