Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch

Developing relationships and building trust

When it comes to virtual and remote working (VRW) teams, there’s a strong link between team effectiveness and team member relationships. Stronger relational links have been associated with higher task performance and the effectiveness of information exchange. Good relationships between team members are also associated with enhanced creativity, high motivation, increased morale, better decisions and fewer process losses.

Effective communication is crucial to success with virtual teams. One of the keys to effective communication is how well team members are able to build and maintain personal relationships. So, building relationships with VRW team members is clearly of fundamental importance to a virtual team leader, as people generally rely on personal relationships to resolve problems and deal with unusual situations.

Powell, Piccoli and Ives (2004) found and investigated 43 articles about virtual teams and concluded that the research at that time had found four main focus areas. The diagram below shows a visual representation of their findings.

The importance of trust

So, from relationship building comes the possibility of cohesion between the team members, resulting in enhanced levels of trust. Trust is easier to destroy than build and requires certain conditions to be met, such as shared

  • Culture
  • Context
  • Values.

Team performance depends on a foundation of trust: without it, team members are reluctant to share information and support and rely on others to keep commitments.

To build a sense of trust, VRW teams need opportunities to develop social rapport, particularly in the early stages of formation. Creating time for team members to identify common values, establish credibility and build a sense of trust is therefore critical for a virtual team’s success.

Trust is not one-dimensional; it changes as a relationship develops. So to build trust in a VRW team, it is essential to ask effective questions, generate clear and concise objectives, and enable the free flow of data and the development of communication and meeting protocols.

The use of social media, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, can be useful to help team members become familiar with each other in a way that fosters trust and confidence.