Sunday, July 03, 2005

Trust in Virtual Teams

On Duck-Grinned Nancy's group, Nancy Settle-Murphy asked to give her input about remote teams presenting special challenges, following you can find what I wrote to her.

Main challenges are:

  • attitudes
    1) what members think of the medium
    ie: do they think the medium characteristics shape the conversation or that it's the conversation to "move along" different paths within the same medium?
    THIS impacts on how you accomodate differences, because in the first case members would/might/should choose a software (or a channel or a path) that they deem appropriate, while in the second case they would adapt to whichever the media. Needless to say in the latter interaction members would get more easily to trust, because their mental attitude is an empowering one (ie: "I can shape the media --- I can shape the conversation -- we can make anything we want out of it"), while the former is a disempowering one (ie: "If I don't have the right tool I can't communicate effectively --- I am limited in my communication capabilities --- there are things that can't be achieved online").

    2) what members think of written communication
    ie: do they find it to be more clear (because it's "all written") or do they find it more obscure (because they "can't see the facial expressions")? Again, it's all a matter of an empowering vs disempowering attitude... can I understand more because it's all clear, since even when something is unclear it can be clarified ("I can choose what to make of it"), or can't I really understand people because feelings can't be conveyed in a written form ("I am limited")?

    What really matters is the ATTITUDE of the majority of members. As a general rule, persons with a disempowering attitude (feeling limited by the media, conversation, situation, whatever) tend to perceive others as limiting as well, REGARDLESS of whether they are or not. Achieving trust, in these conditions, can be VERY hard.

  • values
    3) importance of socialization
    Trust can't be acquired through rational demonstration that you have to trust colleagues. It IS acquired only by *interaction*. A person devaluing socialization could not acquire trust and would therefore be mistrustful.

    4) tendence to cooperation/collaboration
    there are moments in a team in which, for the team's sake, the individual has to be downsized and/or "quieted down". His/her compliance with such rule will generate trust in others, that will SEE how the member is willing to put the team ahead of personal convenience and individualism. People without such attitude will undermine trust, and get the whole team rebellious.

The rest (aka "barriers", such as language, culture, etc) is not that much of a big deal IF attitudes are empowering and socialization and collaboration are present and proactively fostered, because basically everything can be discussed in an atmosphere of sharing.

However, such sharing is harder to acquire in Western cultures, because of their individualism (ego vs collaboration) and management style (valuing "professionality" over socialization).

In particular, once the collaboration is broken, very often the only solution is to expel whoever provoked the breaking up, because rarely will members of a collaborative group forgive it.

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