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Building Trust with Virtual Teams


Building Trust with Virtual Teams

Darryl Stickel shares an article on how to build trust with virtual teams and why it is often lacking. 

Discussions about creating high-performance teams have been with us long before the pandemic arrived.  Dramatic changes in the nature of our work and the spread of virtual teams created by the pandemic have profoundly challenged leaders and organizations the world over.

While there are a host of approaches to building better teams, few would argue that trust is an essential component of teams that perform at a higher level.  Truly elite teams have trust that runs through the entire team and flows not just from the team to the leader but from the leader to the team as well.  Unfortunately, trust has been in decline around the world.  This decline seems to be accelerating due in no small part to the significant shift in how we work.


Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable when you can’t completely predict how another will behave.  This definition includes elements of uncertainty and vulnerability.  Uncertainty times vulnerability leads to a level of perceived risk.  We each have a threshold of risk that we are comfortable with.  If we feel that the risk level goes beyond our personal risk threshold we don’t trust.  If we feel the risk is below our threshold then we do trust.  This means that if either uncertainty or vulnerability go up our level of perceived risk goes up and we are less likely to trust.

The interdependence of uncertainty and vulnerability usually means that if uncertainty is high, we can only tolerate small levels of vulnerability.  This is often the case in shallow or new relationships.  In deeper relationships our uncertainty is low so we can tolerate higher levels of vulnerability.  This also means that building deeper relationships, or more trust involves taking steps to reduce the uncertainty or vulnerability of the other party.

The Leader

Leaders are dependent on those they lead.  The goals and objectives pursued and the successes leaders experience all depend on the actions of others.  This means that leaders experience a significant level of vulnerability to the people they lead.  With high vulnerability comes a low tolerance for uncertainty.  Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic spike in uncertainty over the last few years.  Cultural norms and values seem to be shifting, technology is changing the work landscape, the political landscape is divisive and makes conversations a challenge, and the expectations of employees are evolving.  All of these changes are happening at a rapid pace and are compounded by the new reality of virtual teams.

Some leaders have attempted to take steps to manage their uncertainty by introducing surveillance measures.  Software or hardware solutions that allow them to track their employee’s activities.  Other leaders have attempted to reduce their uncertainty by micro managing, asking for more updates, checking in more often, and pestering their followers.  As someone who’s worked on the topic of trust for nearly 30 years I can tell you that there are few things that destroy trust as effectively as telling or showing others you don’t trust them.  There is a reciprocal element to trust.  We are more likely to trust those who trust us.


Key points include:

  • Lack of leadership presence
  • Uncertainty and vulnerability
  • Definition of excellence


Read the full article, Trust and virtual teams, why don’t we have it?, on