When the pandemic hit, one of the more surprising things we learned was how well teams maintained existing relationships and work processes. People who were co-located and teams that functioned at a high level managed to keep it up when they were dispersed. Trust was a big part of that. But two years in, many teams have new members, and some are being completely reformed. Do you trust the new people as much as you did the folks you already knew?
How we demonstrate trust
Most of us want to leap up and say, "of course we do." But stop and think about how we demonstrate trust. When we trust a teammate, we:
- Are willing to be candid about our concerns and questions
- Go to them first with questions or feedback
- Include them when decisions need to be made or brainstorming happens
- We offer feedback willingly and honestly
Now, think about the way you interact with the newbies on your team. You might not actively distrust them (after all you are a good person, assuming positive intent) but do you act like you trust them?
The trust bank
This doesn't make you a bad person. Trust is built over time. Think of it as a bank account. Each time we interact with someone, or see them work, or hear about them, all of that positive information goes into a database or bank account. The more positive experience we build up, the stronger trust is. One bad experience doesn't necessarily break trust because you have this wealth of positive experience to counterbalance a negative interaction.
With new people, we don't have that good will stored up, so it takes less to damage trust. A single bad interaction can have outsized results.
How working remotely impacts trust
When we work remotely, this dynamic is enhanced. Look at the list of behaviors above. When you have a question, who do you turn to? Odds are it's the person in close physical proximity. It's easier to ask a question of someone right in front of you than take the time to put it in a slack message. We also tend to go first to those we already know, like and trust. You know you can give Alice honest feedback because there's history and an existing relationship, but should you tell the new person they could have done that task a different way?
Here are some ways you can establish and maintain trust faster when a new teammate comes on board:
- Have a one-on-one webcam chat (or in-person cup of coffee) with that person as soon as possible to jumpstart your relationship
- When you need to get ideas or brainstorm, make sure you include the new person (or at least offer to include them.) Not only will they feel part of the team, but they may bring fresh eyes to solving the problem.
- Make yourself available to them as a resource. Odds are they'll have questions
- Offer appropriate feedback to them (both positive and corrective)
- Tell others when you have positive interactions with the new teammate.
Trust requires knowing we share a common purpose, we are competent and we are properly motivated. This can take time, but it doesn't have to take forever. You can build trust quickly if you try.