If you have ever worked with someone you didn’t trust, you know how difficult it is to get anything done. Trust is the binding agent that holds all relationships together; without it, teams can disintegrate quickly.

Virtual teams can be more susceptible to trust issues simply because they don’t have the same opportunities for interaction as teams that are located under one roof. Trust develops through a series of interactions over time. For instance:

A co-worker delivers on a promise to meet a tight deadline, and the client is thrilled.

A few days later, she tells a funny story about her 4-year-old daughter.

A few weeks later, she fills in for a colleague who is dealing with a family crisis.

A few months later, she offers her expertise and makes recommendations on how to handle a situation the team hasn’t encountered before.

These encounters illustrate the four elements of trust: reliability, intimacy, orientation (the extent to which others believe you care about their concerns) and credibility.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the role credibility plays when building trust in a virtual team.

What Is Credibility?

Credibility refers to a person’s expertise and track record of success, as well as the extent to which people believe that person is telling the truth. If team members believe someone is selectively disclosing information or putting a positive spin on the facts to save face, their credibility will suffer.

People demonstrate credibility through credentials and words. Being perceived as credible isn’t only a matter of what someone says, but how they say it and how others perceive it.

Challenges to Building Credibility In a Virtual Team

Within a virtual team, it can be more difficult to get to know others. Casual conversations are less frequent, and some of the context can be lost when it occurs through email, online chats or even phone conversations. When someone has recently joined a team or is new to a leadership role, team members may not know much about them or their past experiences, which can hurt their credibility.

Decision-making can also be less transparent within a virtual team. Leaders may make decisions in silos, without understanding how their actions may impact someone in another location. Team members who only hear the final decision may believe it was made hastily or without consideration, when in fact it followed a rigorous process they had not observed. They may perceive the leader as someone who makes snap judgments, rather than adhering to best practices.

Tips For Enhancing Credibility In a Virtual Team

Unless virtual leaders and team members have established credibility, they will never have the level of trust required to motivate and inspire their team and maintain high levels of productivity.

Here are a few tips for enhancing credibility within virtual teams:

  • Provide ample opportunities to build relationships from the beginning. If possible, new virtual teams should meet face-to-face at least once within the first few months of working together.
  • Offer opportunities for team members to share their capabilities. Hosting “lunch and learn” sessions where team members take turns presenting on a topic where they have expertise can improve their credibility and make others more likely to consult them when they need help.
  • Speak the truth. Respond to questions in an honest and complete manner. Be balanced – communicate the positive aspects as well as the downsides – when making a proposal. Avoid withholding information that may weaken your position but that others would find useful when making a decision.
  • Highlight successes. A proven track record of success is one of the best indicators of credibility. Encourage team members to share their wins through email, during meetings or in company newsletters or social media pages when appropriate.
  • Encourage transparency. Emphasize the importance of being open and honest. Invite team members to regularly share their challenges as well as their successes, whether during meetings or by posting them in an internal forum and opening them up for discussion. Whenever possible, make project timelines, agreements and processes transparent. Collaborative software, such as Asana, Basecamp or Wrike, make this easy to do.
  • Admit when you don’t know something. Instead of pretending to know everything, virtual leaders should set an example for their teams by giving honest answers and admitting what they don’t know. Leaders should consult others for information and encourage team members to do the same.

Building trust within a virtual team takes time and commitment, but it’s essential. In a study of 600 virtual team members, 81 percent reported building rapport and trust was the greatest personal challenge they faced. OnPoint Consulting’s own research on virtual teams, detailed in our Virtual Team Study Report, shows trust is one of the most important factors distinguishing top-performing teams from less successful ones.

The ability to foster trust within a team is a skill leaders can acquire and develop through training. It’s such a critical component that we’ve developed a specific training program designed to help leaders build trust within their teams.

This program, “No Trust, No Team: Building Trust Virtually,” is a 90-minute instructor-led session that is also available in a self-guided e-learning format. It’s designed to help participants understand their current level of trustworthiness and learn strategies to build and sustain trust within their virtual teams. To learn more about this program and others designed to accelerate virtual team performance, take a look at our program guide.