For the past several weeks, many of us began working from home (or WFH). For some of you, working in remote environments has plunged you into a realm of the unknown.
However, for many, WFH has been the status quo for years.
I began working from home full time in 2006 when I worked for a company based in New Jersey while I lived in the DC metro area and haven’t looked back since. As a consultant and coach, I have established and built hundreds of relationships in an entirely remote fashion.
While operating virtually, I have found that building and maintaining trust with others has been vital in establishing and growing relationships with colleagues, clients, and partners.
Foundations of Trust
Trust can seem related to predictability in behavior such as, “I have known Mary for a while and when she says she will take ownership of the task and complete it by the due date, I trust that she will.”
However, the type of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage calls vulnerability-based trust. This level of trust is when team members can be transparent and honest with each other and can genuinely say things like “I messed up,” “I need help,” and “I’m sorry.”
It also includes “having each other’s backs” when someone makes a mistake or needs help. This type of trust reminds me of the scene in The Blind Side when Michael Oher is playing his first game, and the opposing team’s defensive lineman is blowing by him and getting to the quarterback one play after another.
Later in the game, Michael’s coach stands up for him to a referee, and Michael realizes the coach has his back. After this incident, Michael’s performance significantly improves and helps lead the team to a victory.
Early in my career, I held the belief that my personal and professional lives should not be closely connected, and I worked hard to have my work persona be separate from my home persona.
After having trouble establishing strong relationships at work, I realized that I was taking the wrong approach. Most people want to know they are dealing with a ‘real’ person who has genuine feelings and can empathize with others.
I have since learned to combine these personas and focus on being more authentic and genuine in all of my interactions. Specifically, this means saying things like “I don’t know” or “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.” This acknowledgment also includes disagreeing with and providing critical feedback to others. Being more authentic also includes positive behaviors such as giving praise and recognition where it’s due, boosting someone’s confidence when they are struggling, and sharing personal stories.
During these uncertain times, displaying our human side virtually is even more critical as face-to-face interactions are limited or eliminated.
Know Each Other’s Backstories
Whether you work in an established team or are part of a newer team, it is essential to get to know the people you’re working with to foster trust. If you’re part of an established team, you may already know some personal information about your colleagues, so you may not need to put much focus on this.
However, with most people’s home environments affected by COVID-19, it may be important to ask your colleagues what they are dealing with at home. With so many changes, there can be a variety of factors such as homeschooling children or caring for elderly family members. It is likely many of us are dealing with similar situations and can help each other through this challenging time.
If you’re part of a newer team, getting to know each other is even more critical during this time. Find opportunities to share something personal during existing meetings, or schedule a separate time for a more casual conversation in which people can converse about family life, interests, professional background, places traveled, special skills, etc.
I had the opportunity to participate in a 30-minute virtual happy hour recently with a group of 40+ people and thought that was a great way to get to know a new group of people I will be working with soon. In addition to knowing someone’s personal information, it is good practice to highlight that information during future discussions, such as “Damian, we know you like podcasts, which ones are you listening to now and recommend to the group?”
Play to Strengths, Coach with Intent
Teams are made up of multiple people and each person brings unique skills and strengths to the table. Team effectiveness boosts when people use their strengths to contribute to the team’s goals.
Another critical component to building trust is to learn what people’s strengths are and capitalize on them to achieve the objectives.
If you’ve worked with your team for some time, you have learned about strengths from experience or evidence. As an example, while coaching others, I can usually tell when someone is savvy with data analysis, has a strong presentation, and communication skills, or is an effective project manager. Once I learn of a person’s strengths, I encourage them to apply their strengths in different ways.
Alternatively, I also learn about what people struggle with, such as data analysis, presentation and communication skills, or project management, and use these as coaching opportunities to achieve a goal or objective. Learn about What Makes an Effective Coach and Creating a Consistent Coaching style.
If you are new to a team, finding strengths and vulnerable areas immediately may be hard. It’s a good idea to make this part of the “getting to know you” process by asking about the type of work people most enjoy doing, or what has been the hardest project they’ve worked on.
In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni cites trust as the foundational element to building a truly cohesive team. While it’s uncertain how much longer we will have to work remotely, or what the future of our work environments will look like, the health of our teams and ultimately our organizations rely on a foundation of trust.
Use this time as an opportunity to stretch yourself to bolster trust amongst your existing and new relationships.