Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something.  All teams need trust in order to perform effectively.  This can be challenging enough in a traditional office environment, but when leading a remote team, the process can be even harder. It is obvious when trust is missing in a team, and it is damaging to performance, leading to lack of communication, knowledge hoarding, micro-management, and poor productivity.    

There are numerous interesting theories exploring the concept of trust.  In their book The Long Distance Leader, Kevin Eikenberry & Wayne Turmel discuss the Trust Triangle, which comprises of a Common Purpose, Competence & Motives. There is even a Trust Equation (Maister / Green) where a numeric value can be placed on your level of trust (Trust = Perception of Credibility + Perception of Reliability + Intimacy) / Perception of Self Orientation)

There are many practical ways in which you can increase trust with your team, even when you are not co-located with your colleagues.  Here are some simple suggestions, which support each of the elements that these theories identify as the building blocks for creating trust:

  • Be honest and transparent, and encourage open communication among the team.  Ensure that you share quality information frequently and with predictability.  When working in isolation it is easier to inadvertently withhold information or not provide colleagues with sufficient context.
  • Be mindful of keeping the team’s common purpose at the forefront.  This avoids the formation of a self-seeking attitude, which is at odds with building trust.
  • Encourage and motivate.  Empower the team to make decisions.  Set clear expectations and give them the autonomy to prove themselves. 
  • Value output rather than time “at the desk”.  Trust the team to manage their own time and be responsible for their work
  • Use regular status check-ins, rather than check-ups, so that the whole team has visibility of the hard work each is putting in to build confidence in the team’s competenceThis bridges the gap in knowledge about what individuals are doing, which can lead to creates suspicion and erodes trust.  As Sophocles said “trust dies, but mistrust blossoms”.
  • Be accountable and show your own vulnerability.  If you make a mistake, own it. This adds to your credibility.
  • Fulfil your commitments.  If you say that you are going to do something, then do it.  Breaking promises breaks trust, but following through with your promises proves your reliability.

Remember, trust is both a verb and a noun.  The more of it you do, the more of it you get.  “He who does not trust enough will not be trusted” – Lao Tzu