You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.– Frank Crane, American minister and author
Have you ever managed people who didn't trust one another? If you have, then you'll know how challenging and draining this can be.
A team without trust isn't really a team: it's just a group of individuals, working together, often making disappointing progress. They may not share information, they might battle over rights and responsibilities, and they may not cooperate with one another. It doesn't matter how capable or talented your people are, they may never reach their full potential if trust isn't present.
However, when trust is in place, each individual in the team becomes stronger, because he or she is part of an effective, cohesive group. When people trust one another, the group can achieve truly meaningful goals.
So how can you, as a leader, help your team build the trust that it needs to flourish? In this article we'll look at the issue of trust within teams, why it's important, and what you can do to build it.
The Importance of Trust
One definition describes trust as a "reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something."
Think about that definition for a moment. Trust means that you rely on someone else to do the right thing. You believe in the person's integrity and strength, to the extent that you're able to put yourself on the line, at some risk to yourself.
Trust is essential to an effective team, because it provides a sense of safety. When your team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, take appropriate risks, and expose vulnerabilities.
Without trust there's less innovation, collaboration, creative thinking, and productivity, and people spend their time protecting themselves and their interests – this is time that should be spent helping the group attain its goals.
Trust is also essential for knowledge sharing. A study published in the "Journal of Knowledge Management" found that trust was a key element in a team's knowledge acquisition. Put simply, if your team members trust one another, they're far more likely to share knowledge, and communicate openly.
Strategies for Building Trust
As a leader, what can you do to create a culture of trust within your team?
1. Lead by Example
If you want to build trust within your team, then lead by example, and show your people that you trust others. This means trusting your team, your colleagues, and your boss. Never forget that your team members are always watching and taking cues from you – take the opportunity to show them what trust in others really looks like.
2. Communicate Openly
Open communication is essential for building trust. You need to get everyone on your team talking to one another in an honest, meaningful way, and you can use several strategies to accomplish this.
First, create a team charter to define the purpose of the team, as well as each person's role. Present this charter at the first team meeting, and encourage each team member to ask questions, and discuss his or her expectations.
Next, consider organizing team building exercises. When chosen carefully and planned well, these exercises can help "break the ice" and encourage people to open up and start communicating.
It's useful to help your people understand that other people's approaches and insights can be as valid as their own. This is where psychometric instruments such as Myers-Briggs Personality Testing and the Margerison-McCann Team Management Profile can help people understand and appreciate those that they work with, even when these people have quite different approaches.
Meet regularly, so that all team members have a chance to talk about their progress, and discuss any problems that they're experiencing. This time spent face-to-face is an important part of getting to know each other. It also creates opportunities for team members to talk, and to help one another solve problems.
Make sure that you "walk the talk" here: whenever you have important or relevant information to share, do so immediately. Demonstrate that open communication is important to you by consistently sharing with the group. The more you share with your team members, and thereby prove that you have no hidden agenda, the more comfortable they'll feel trusting you and each other.
3. Know Each Other Personally
One way to build trust is to encourage your team members to see their colleagues as people. Think about creating situations that help them share personal stories, and bond.
Do this by asking sensitively about their family, or about their hobbies. Start by sharing some personal information about yourself, and then ask someone else about a hobby, or a musical interest.
Another way to get the team acquainted, and to form stronger bonds, is to socialize after work or at lunch.
For example, you could set aside time each week for informal group discussions. Consider asking team members to put forward suggestions on topics you could all cover. To start with, you could start a discussion around values. Share some of your own values, and encourage others to share theirs. Values are important to most people, and starting a conversation that allows people to share them highlights your team's humanity.
Use your own best judgment when asking team members or colleagues personal questions – don't invade their privacy!
4. Don't Place Blame
When people work together, honest mistakes and disappointments happen, and it's easy to blame someone who causes these. However, when everyone starts pointing fingers, an unpleasant atmosphere can quickly develop. This lowers morale, undermines trust, and is ultimately unproductive.
Instead, encourage everyone in your group to think about the mistake in a constructive way. What can you all do to fix what happened, and move forward together? And how can you make sure that this mistake doesn't happen again?
5. Discourage Cliques
Sometimes, cliques can form within a team, often between team members who share common interests or work tasks. However, these groups can – even inadvertently – make others feel isolated. They can also undermine trust between group members.
Start an open discussion about this with your team members, and see what they think about cliques and their effect on other group members. Only by addressing the issue openly can you discourage this damaging behavior.
6. Discuss Trust Issues
If you manage an established team that has trust issues, it's essential to find out how these problems originate, so that you can come up with a strategy for overcoming them.
Consider giving team members a questionnaire to fill out anonymously. Ask them about the level of trust within the group, as well as why they think there's a lack of trust. Once you've read the results, get everyone together to talk about these issues (but make sure that you respect the anonymity of the survey!)
Building Trust Virtually
If you manage a virtual team, then you might be working with a group of people who have never met face to face, or who have never spoken to one another personally. So, how can you build trust between people who are hundreds – if not thousands – of miles apart?
You can apply some of the advice above when you're working with a virtual team. Schedule a virtual "meet and greet" if it's a new team, to help everyone get to know one another as individuals. Or, create a web page for your team's project, and ask everyone to write a paragraph or two about their personal history and interests.
A team charter is still important for defining the goals and expectations of the team. Make sure that the charter addresses roles, as well as processes for submitting work digitally. Make sure that the charter is as comprehensive as possible, so that people don't feel uncertain or fearful about the work they're doing.
Next, make sure that everyone on the team is aware of other team members' expertise and skills, as well as the value that each individual contributes to the group.
Encourage your team members to treat each other just as they would if they were working face to face. This means that team members should make every effort to be on time for conference calls or web meetings, and that they should let the rest of the team know when they'll be absent, or on vacation.
It's particularly important to follow through on the promises you make, and to set an example for everyone else. Keeping your promises is incredibly important in a virtual team, because your word is often all you can give. Positive follow-through builds trust quickly, and can raise the entire group's tone and expectations.
Trust is an essential element in team productivity. Without it, you're unlikely to get anything meaningful done. But with it, teams can accomplish everything they set out to do... and more.
As a leader, it's important that you set an example. Show your team members how critical trust is to you by demonstrating your trust in them, as well as in your colleagues.
Next, make an effort to help everyone get to know each other on a personal level. Encourage conversations on values, family, or hobbies. Last, discourage cliques, if you feel that they're damaging to the group's trust and morale.
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Working in a Virtual Team
Using Technology to Communicate and Collaborate
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Working in a virtual team can be challenging and rewarding.
Marissa is a skilled professional who works as part of a virtual team. Her teammates are all experts, and she enjoys being part of such a diverse and intelligent group. However, she finds the virtual side of her work challenging.
She collaborates closely with two colleagues on specific tasks, but she has found it hard to build relationships with other teammates. Many of Marissa's co-workers are located in different countries, and they rely heavily on email, instant messaging, and video chat to communicate.
She has often caught herself jumping to conclusions or misinterpreting emails, because she's unable to communicate with her colleagues in person. As a result, team interactions can be strained and unsure, and conflicts can arise, which has resulted in some tension within the group.
If you're part of a virtual team, then Marissa's situation may sound familiar. Virtual teams are commonplace. But, while they offer flexibility, increased job satisfaction, and higher productivity, virtual teams also come with a number of challenges that, if not addressed, can undermine goals, relationships, and team effectiveness.
In this article, we'll look at how you can work successfully in a virtual team.
Virtual Teams Today
In a study published by the Academy of Management Executive, the authors describe a virtual team as a "group of people who work independently with shared purpose across space, time, and organization boundaries, using technology to communicate and collaborate." As such, virtual teams allow organizations to bring together people with the best expertise, regardless of where they live.
The number of people engaged in virtual work continues to rise each year:
The Telework Research Network states that there are currently 2.9 million full-time virtual workers in the U.S. This is a 61 percent increase since 2005.
One survey found that 44 percent of U.S. companies plan to increase their virtual workforce in the coming years.
A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Managementreports that 37 percent of organizations have experienced an increase in the number of requests for "flexible work arrangements."
Alongside Germany, the U.K. leads the EU in the number of virtual workers. The BBC estimates that 1.3 million U.K. people work virtually full time, and that 3.7 million people do so part time.
Virtual teams can consist of professionals who work from home full or part time, others who take part in mobile work (coming to a fixed office but working outside this space for part of the week), or people who work at a remote location.
Working in a virtual team presents many challenges. When you can't see your colleagues face-to-face, and you can't have the social interactions that build relationships and rapport, it can be difficult to establish trust. If it isn't managed correctly, this lack of trust can undermine everything that the virtual team is trying to achieve.
Another major challenge is communication, especially when a virtual team includes members from different countries and cultures. Communicating by email, IM, or telephone can be difficult, because there are no visual cues (such as body language or facial expressions) to help people understand one-another and build trust.
Last, it can be more difficult to voice your opinion in a virtual team, and it can be harder to resolve team conflict, which can increase misunderstanding and tension.
Working Effectively in a Virtual Team
There are many tools and strategies that you can use to work successfully in a virtual team. We look at these below.
Effective communication is important within a virtual team. Open, honest communication not only helps you avoid misunderstandings, but it will also increase your effectiveness.
To find out how well you communicate, and to get tips on how to improve your weakest areas, take our interactive quiz, "How Good Are Your Communication Skills?" Next, use the 7Cs of Communication as a checklist to make sure that your emails, presentations, and IMs are as clear and courteous as possible.
An important part of communicating clearly is knowing how to listen. Always useactive listening skills when someone else is speaking, and never multitask when you're listening. Give the other person your full attention; not only will you understand them better, it's also a sign of respect and courtesy.
Tools such as Skype® and other virtual meeting platforms present different communication challenges. Keep in mind that your team members' Internet connection might not be as fast as yours, so speak slowly and clearly. Try to speak as if everyone is in the room with you, and encourage people to ask for clarification if they miss something, or if the sound quality is poor. Also, try not to interrupt when others are speaking.
When communicating with IM or email, be aware that messages can be misunderstood, particularly if they have emotional content. Agree with your team that it's OK to use emoticons, and then use them to clarify any message where the emotional meaning could be taken the wrong way.
At times, you might need to raise issues with your boss or colleagues, or participate in other sensitive discussions. When this occurs, think about how you're going to communicate.
Giving feedback and delivering bad news is best done in person. However, when this isn't possible, use Skype voice, video chat, or phone, rather than email or IM. When your team members can hear your tone of voice or see your facial expressions, they're less likely to misinterpret what you're saying.
When you're part of a virtual team, it can be tempting to let issues – or perceived unfairness – slide by. However, if you don't speak up and voice your concerns, these issues can become bigger problems over time. You owe it to yourself and to your team to be honest about any issues that arise. Often, it's best to voice these concerns when they happen. Be assertive, and learn how to manage your emotions so that you stay cool, calm, and collected.
Last, learn good conflict resolution skills, so that you can manage conflict within your team objectively and fairly.
Use social networking tools such as Facebook®, Twitter®, or LinkedIn® to connect with team members. These tools can give you an insight into their personality, home life, and interests. (See our article on maintaining a positive online reputation to make sure that you're sharing information in a way that isn't likely to damage your career or reputation.)
Also, ask your boss whether you can meet your team in person, at least once a year. This can be an expensive and time-consuming suggestion, but spending some time together will help you build trust, and it will strengthen your relationships, particularly if these are sometimes strained. Assembling the whole team could also create unexpected opportunities or breakthroughs, especially if everyone sits down for some creative thinking or team-building sessions.
When you work in a virtual team, you have to make an extra effort with relationships. An important part of establishing relationships with teammates is building and maintaining trust.
Trust evolves differently in virtual teams. In an office setting, colleagues build relationships and trust through social interaction and collaborative work. Researchers call this benevolent or interpersonal trust. However, in a virtual team, colleagues build trust through reliability, consistency, and responsiveness – this is called ability-based, or task-based trust.
To build trust, start by keeping your word. If you agree on a deadline, or you make a promise to call a teammate, follow up on what you say. When you demonstrate your integrity and work ethic, your team members will learn that they can rely on you.
Respond promptly to emails and other requests. A quick response shows your teammates that their needs are important to you.
Last, be sensitive to your colleagues in different time zones. If a meeting is scheduled early or late in their region, keep in mind that they might be less vocal or engaged than other team members. If possible, schedule important meetings and deadlines for times when you're both in the office, and don't expect an immediate email response from a colleague who isn't yet at her desk.
Coping With Isolation
It's normal for professionals who work virtually to experience feelings of isolation. You might also feel as if your organization has "forgotten" you, if you often work remotely.
If you are experiencing these feelings, take active steps to combat them. If your organization has a blog or forum set up to connect and support virtual workers, spend time using these platforms. If you do not have access to a support platform, ask your boss about creating one. These platforms can help everyone on the team, and they might even support online brainstorming or creative thinking sessions.
Make an effort to engage and socialize with others outside of work. Meet a friend for lunch, or join a group focused on a hobby that you care about. There are also many forums and online communities devoted to virtual workers; making connections on these sites can help you to build a network of friends and colleagues who can empathize with your situation.
You might also feel disconnected from your organization when you work virtually. This is especially true if you're left out of the decision-making process. Or, maybe you feel that your standing or reputation in the organization has been diminished since you are not there every day.
Avoid these drawbacks by staying visible, and use the PVI Model to uncover ways that you can stand out from the crowd. Check in with your boss regularly with project updates, and suggest improvements or future projects that might be valuable to the organization.
Virtual teams are increasingly common. Although this form of work can be productive and efficient, it can also be difficult. Communication barriers, feelings of isolation, and a lack of rapport are all common in virtual teams.
You can work successfully within a virtual team by communicating clearly and honestly with your colleagues. Keep your promises, and respond promptly to their requests or needs.
Connect with colleagues through social media to help build relationships. If you feel isolated working virtually, reach out to others who perform the same work, or meet with friends to socialize.
This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!
Imagine that you've brought together the brightest people in your department to solve a problem. You have high hopes for the group, so you feel frustrated when people can't come to a decision.
Several factors are holding the group back.
To start with, one person is very critical of colleagues' ideas. You suspect that her fault-finding is discouraging others from speaking up. Another has hardly contributed to the sessions at all: when asked for his opinion, he simply agrees with a more dominant colleague. Finally, one group member makes humorous comments at unhelpful times, which upsets the momentum of the discussion.
These are classic examples of poor group dynamics, and they can undermine the success of a project, as well as people's morale and engagement.
In this article, we'll look at what group dynamics are, and why they matter. We'll then discuss some examples of poor group dynamics, and we'll outline some tools that you can use to deal with them.
What Are Group Dynamics?
Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist and change management expert, is credited with coining the term "group dynamics" in the early 1940s. He noted that people often take on distinct roles and behaviors when they work in a group. "Group dynamics" describes the effects of these roles and behaviors on other group members, and on the group as a whole.
More recent researchers have built on Lewin's ideas, and this work has become central to good management practice.
A group with a positive dynamic is easy to spot. Team members trust one another, they work towards a collective decision, and they hold one another accountable for making things happen. As well as this, researchers have found that when a team has a positive dynamic, its members are nearly twice as creative as an average group.
In a group with poor group dynamics, people's behavior disrupts work. As a result, the group may not come to any decision, or it may make the wrong choice, because group members could not explore options effectively.
What Causes Poor Group Dynamics?
Group leaders and team members can contribute to a negative group dynamic. Let's look at some of the most common problems that can occur:
Weak leadership: when a team lacks a strong leader, a more dominant member of the group can often take charge. This can lead to a lack of direction, infighting, or a focus on the wrong priorities.
Excessive deference to authority: this can happen when people want to be seen to agree with a leader, and therefore hold back from expressing their own opinions.
Blocking: this happens when team members behave in a way that disrupts the flow of information in the group. People can adopt blocking roles such as:
The aggressor: this person often disagrees with others, or is inappropriately outspoken.
The negator: this group member is often critical of others' ideas.
The withdrawer: this person doesn't participate in the discussion.
The recognition seeker: this group member is boastful, or dominates the session.
The joker: this person introduces humor at inappropriate times.
Groupthink: this happens when people place a desire for consensus above their desire to reach the right decision. This prevents people from fully exploring alternative solutions.
Free riding: here, some group members take it easy, and leave their colleagues to do all the work. Free riders may work hard on their own, but limit their contributions in group situations; this is known as "social loafing."
Evaluation apprehension: team members' perceptions can also create a negative group dynamic. Evaluation apprehension happens when people feel that they are being judged excessively harshly by other group members, and they hold back their opinions as a result.
Strategies for Improving Team Dynamics
Use these approaches to improve group dynamics:
Know Your Team
As a leader, you need to guide the development of your group. So, start by learning about the phases that a group goes through as it develops. When you understand these, you'll be able to preempt problems that could arise, including issues with poor group dynamics.
Next, use Benne and Sheats' Group Roles to identify positive and negative group roles, and to understand how they could affect the group as a whole. This will also help you plan how to deal with potential problems.
Tackle Problems Quickly
If you notice that one member of your team has adopted a behavior that's affecting the group unhelpfully, act quickly to challenge it.
Provide feedback that shows your team member the impact of her actions, and encourage her to reflect on how she can change her behavior.
Define Roles and Responsibilities
Teams that lack focus or direction can quickly develop poor dynamics, as people struggle to understand their role in the group.
Create a team charter – defining the group's mission and objective, and everyone's responsibilities – as soon as you form the team. Make sure that everyone has a copy of the document, and remind people of it regularly.
Break Down Barriers
Use team-building exercises to help everyone get to know one another, particularly when new members join the group. These exercises ease new colleagues into the group gently, and also help to combat the "black sheep effect," which happens when group members turn against people they consider different.
Also, explain the idea of the Johari Window to help people open up. Lead by example: share what you hope the group will achieve, along with "safe" personal information about yourself, such as valuable lessons that you've learned.
Focus on Communication
Open communication is central to good team dynamics, so make sure that everyone is communicating clearly. Include all of the forms of communication that your group uses – emails, meetings, and shared documents, for example – to avoid any ambiguity.
If the status of a project changes, or if you have an announcement to make, let people know as soon as possible. That way, you can ensure that everyone has the same information.
Opinionated team members can overwhelm their quieter colleagues in meetings. Where this happens, use techniques such as Crawford's Slip Writing Method, and make sure that you develop strong facilitation skills.
Watch out for the warning signs of poor group dynamics.
Pay particular attention to frequent unanimous decisions, as these can be a sign ofgroupthink, bullying, or free riding. If there are frequent unanimous decisions in your group, consider exploring new ways to encourage people to discuss their views, or to share them anonymously.
The term "group dynamics" describes the way in which people in a group interact with one another. When dynamics are positive, the group works well together. When dynamics are poor, the group's effectiveness is reduced.
Problems can come from weak leadership, too much deference to authority, blocking, groupthink and free riding, among others.
To strengthen your team's dynamics, use the following strategies:
Know your team.
Tackle problems quickly with good feedback.
Define roles and responsibilities.
Break down barriers.
Focus on communication.
Keep in mind that observing how your group interacts is an important part of your role as a leader. Many of the behaviors that lead to poor dynamics can be overcome if you catch them early.