Virtual Teams – Swift Trust

Posted on January 17, 2011 by


Swift Trust

You hope they have your back

While delivering over forty Effective Virtual Team workshops at TAPUniversity since 2006, one question we encourage participants to ask is “well, OK, how does this differ from team members we see in person?”

Swift Trust is one concept worth digging in to help answer the question of differentiation.

Trust applies to all teams. Teams lacking trust do not function effectively: they hoard information, seek self-serving interests over the good of the many, and end up in defeat. Teams with trust, however, rise above challenges, they build each other up, and contrary to many, they can be extremely successful.

Trust is needed in both virtual and in-person teams but what is different for virtual teams is the concept of swift trust. That is, you afford someone trust on a limited basis, with whom you have not met in person. Basically, allowing them the ‘benefit of the doubt’ until that trust is breached.

Trust is built through consistent behavior and delivery. For virtual teams, trust that begins ‘swiftly’ needs consistent nurturing. A week long gap in communicating with someone you typically see face-to-face does not seem as long as going a week without receiving an email, phone call or discussion board thread from someone at a distance.

Swift trust that is lost in a virtual team is often more difficult to regain than in-person teams. To repair broken trust these three steps are helpful:

  • Acknowledge the breach in performance through as personal a medium as possible (e.g. phone call rather than email)
  • Make commitments for communicating progress and yet don’t over commit to make up for a wrong. That typically leads to a downward spiral of further misses.
  • Stay as fact-based as possible and avoid over interpretation or excuses