How many qualities of a successful team can you think of? Productive, supportive, communicative, cooperative, organized… And then there’s ten more qualities that you can probably come up with the top of your mind.Is it possible to boil it down to just one?
Turns out, some teams effectively did so. There’s one crucial characteristic that acts as a glue between all the aforementioned qualities, and that’s trust.
In this article, we’ll talk about why trusted relationships in team are instrumental to its productivity and success, how to nurture trust, and why it is especially important to build trust in a remote environment. We’ll also provide you with an example of how a major software development company, Shopify, was able to build a top global engineering team with trust being one of the main pillars of the team culture.
Why Trusted Relationships Are So Crucial For Team Success?
You’ve probably noticed that working in a trusted environment is easier and more pleasant on many levels. You can trust your teammates to help you with certain tasks, or you can help your co-workers to achieve their goals.
Each interaction between trusted coworkers doesn’t only make your work easier, but also empowers all the people involved in these interactions to do better work too. There are several reasons to it.
According to HBR, employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy, collaborate more efficiently with their peers, and are more loyal than people working at low-trust companies.
Another advantage of a trusted environment is that when workers trust their team they more readily take on risky and challenging tasks. This often leads to innovative solutions and plays a major role in the company’s ability to stay competitive.
In fact, a global survey by company PwC in their yearly report revealed that 55% of CEOs consider lack of trust in their teams as a threat to their companies’ growth.
In low-trust companies people tend to focus only on their day to day tasks, effectively isolating themselves from their team members. That hinders the company’s ability to tackle complex projects that involve several people.
With all that in mind it’s crucial to build trust within any team, but even more so in a remote environment where people are disconnected from each other on several dimensions: time, distance, and culture.
Building Trusted Relationships In Remote Teams
Remote teams have many advantages: diverse hiring pool, diverse workforce, more freedom for employees, to name just a few.
However, it all comes with a price: people in remote teams are not connected on a location-based basis. The connection is usually virtual: a company Slack chat, a shared Kanban board, an email list.
So the question is: if you hire a bunch of people all over the world and put them on the same Slack channel, will they trust each other?
We need some science insight to answer this question.
In his decade-long studies on the neuroscience of trust and its role in organizations, professor of economics and psychology Paul J. Zak defined eight measurable management behaviors that foster trust in teams:
- Recognize excellence
- Induce challenges
- Give discretion
- Enable job crafting
- Share information
- Intentionally build relationships
- Help people grow
- Ask coworkers for help
Although all eight behaviours are equally important in building trusted relationships within teams, the one remote companies most struggle with is sharing information.
In order to build trusted relationships, it’s crucial for people to know what their colleagues are working on. Knowing that they can offer help, ask for help, provide feedback, or utilize any other trust-building behavior mentioned earlier.
In offices, employers have watercooler talks, meeting rooms and shared physical desks. Organically those help to spawn conversations and spread information across the whole organization in a natural way.
With remote teams it’s different. Often employers have no idea what their co-workers are working on, and are too shy to ask.
To facilitate such discussions, remote teams often organize daily standups where people share information about their current progress.
Unfortunately, this is not always an effective solution for several reasons:
- it’s hard to keep track of what everyone is saying in real-time
- extraverted people tend to dominate verbal conversations, while introverted people may be too shy to share
- gathering people from several time zones at the same time can be challenging
This is when tools like Geekbot come in.
Geekbot allows people to share with their colleagues what they are working on in an asynchronous manner.
The service asks employees four basic questions:
- How do you feel today?
- What did you do since yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- Is there anything that blocks your progress?
Employers are free to answer these questions whenever is most convenient for them, without interrupting their work.
It’s especially effective for teams with members spread across several time-zones, as those are often struggling to organize real-time meetings that fit everyone.
After that, everyone can see what their peers are working on, and easily provide help, advice, or just build global awareness about how their company is progressing. According to a Harvard study, 76% of people reported their best days involved progressing toward goals.
Although these basic Geekbot questions are powered by decades of research behind Agile management practices, one of the Geekbot’s main strengths comes from its customization.
Companies can adapt the tool to their own challenges and culture, and in the next section, we’ll talk about how Shopify used Geekbot and effectively built their global development team with 20+ engineers spread across four offices and six countries.
A Role of Trust In Shopify’s Growth
Shopify is a world-leading cloud-based company that over a decade has grown from a 5-person startup into a global commerce platform that powers over 1 million businesses online.
Such a growth always comes with a set of unique challenges, especially given that some Shopify team members operate fully remotely.
That’s why Shopify came up with a concept called “trust battery” that proved to be fundamental to the company’s culture of constant growth. Here’s how Shopify’s CEO, Tobi Lütke, described the concept:
It’s charged at 50 percent when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two of you is either charged or discharged, based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise.
Tobi Lütke, Chief Executive of Shopify.
An engineering department at Shopify extensively used the trust battery metaphor to facilitate trusted relationships within their co-workers. They used Geekbot to encourage people to share details about themselves and increase their participation levels.
To do that, they customized Geekbot questions, and every week the engineering team would answer an optional list of questions on Slack, such as:
- What did you do this weekend?
- What’s something that you’ve read in the last week?
- Any upcoming travel/vacation/conferences planned?
A Shopify engineering department Director of Production, Lawrence Mandel, shared that he learned a lot about people he works with through this short list of questions. It allowed to humanize the people on the other end of the chat application and gave him a multidimensional view of his team, powering the trust battery and team efficiency even further.
All in all, successful companies with high-trust culture follow these practices:
- Constantly charge their trust battery
- Facilitate deep collaboration, using tools, such as Geekbot, and agile methods, such as daily standups
- Empower workers, recognizing their excellence and openly sharing information within the teams
Building trust within teams is not an easy task, but absolutely a rewarding one in the long run for every company, either remote or collocated.
Your company may experience unprecedented growth in the first few months of its existence, but building the right foundation from the start ensures that it stays ahead of its competition in the years to come.
If you build this foundation on trust, employees will communicate, collaborate, and innovate more effectively than ever, and it all comes down to what tools and methods you choose to facilitate a high-trust environment.
Frequently asked questions
How do you build trust with a remote team?
Trust in a remote team starts with absolute transparency. Trust within a remote team starts as a neutral value, or 50%. The value of trust increases every time a team member collaborates with someone and experiences positive feedback for his work. Trust decreases in non-transparent remote teams where colleagues don’t know what their peers are working or where they don’t understand the purpose of their work.
How do you build relationships while working remotely?
Relationships within remote teams should start with open and transparent communications between team members. With new employees the best way to build relationships is a balanced onboarding policy. With experienced employees you should aim to build relationships based on collaborative work experience, team-building exercises, and tools that can help you better understand inner team dynamics.
What are the factors that can destroy trust in a remote team?
There are several factors that can negatively affect and even destroy trust within remote teams. Those include unbalanced performance feedback, low team transparency, poor communication with team members and management, the inability to leave feedback, and low level of collaboration. Remote teams with low trust culture are less productive, have higher turnover rates, and generally less creative in their work.