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Take the time or suffer the consequences

Take time building trust, or suffer the consequences: Tackling the challenges faced in remote and virtual Teams

Without bonds of trust, remote teams and the projects they work on will fail unless “getting to know each other” is given a priority.  

I recently had a particularly challenging day at work. This was down to a new team working on a project remotely, and up to now there had been no reason or opportunity for them to meet face to face.

In addition to this the team is made up of different cultures and personalities, working in different time zones across the globe.  No bonds had yet been formed in the team apart from those colleagues lucky enough to be in reasonably close working proximity to each other. 

When one of the team unreasonably challenged the credibility of a new member in such a way that they were endangering the successful outcome of the project, I knew that something needed to change or the team would collapse. 

These two individuals, in a week’s time, would need to present a leadership course as partners. How could that happen successfully if one did not trust the other? What was the real justification for that trust not being there?

My initial reaction was “well they’ll just have to get on with it. They are both highly experienced Leadership trainers: MAKE IT WORK”. 

Luckily, the time difference between the team and me meant that I had the rest of the afternoon and evening to mull over the situation. How was I going to fix this? 

The Lightbulb moment

That evening I attended an emotional intelligence Masterclass. It was just 1 hour long and touched on the importance of taking account of emotions in the workplace and especially within teams. It was a very interesting seminar, delivered by the talented and engaging Geetu Bharwaney.

Geetu spoke of the challenges faced by remote and culturally diverse teams and the exceptional challenges that they faced in bonding. True dedication and absolute commitment from every individual had to be given to build bonds of trust with one another; to build integrity and manage personal responsibility to the success of whatever goals and aims had been established, and rigorous communication. 

That got me thinking, how could I expect my team to work together effectively when they didn’t really know each other? 

The gregarious personality of my Swedish colleague would dominate the reserved personality of his Chinese counterpart during any phone conversation. They were using a communication stream that only allowed for vocal interation, so the assumption and the confidence from the Swede that his was the right way (and only way) didn’t allow his Chinese colleague to display any confidence.

Verbal communication is only 5% of all communication.  The way we do things in one country is not the same as the appropriate way in another. We can learn so much from each other, but in order to do so we need to put in the time, effort and energy. 

When lucky enough to meet face to face, conversations naturally take place that allow us to get to know each other, to find out what make us happy/sad/relaxed/laugh. In and outside of the workplace. True bonds are made by these small but essential insights into each other. 

My colleagues already had all the tools at their disposal, they just weren’t taking the time to utilise them. As leadership trainers they were familiar with the impact of non-vocal communication and the ways of building trust, but they weren’t taking the time to use the tools at their disposal to resolve their issues.  From this point onwards we agreed our good practice guide to working together remotely and implemented it rigorously into our team structure.

  1. Team build –Always do an initial “getting to know you” session as a new remote team is put together. provide icebreaker activities that ease the pressure. 
  2. Take time to get to know your colleagues. – Chat for a few minutes before any remote meeting – give the meeting meet and greet time.
  3. Use webcams – its far easier to gauge emotion when you can see each other’s faces
  4. Don’t ignore cultural differences; don’t assume you all work in the same way, even if there are corporate standards through your organisation.
  5. Use the technology at your disposal to ease the process
The Benefits?

A happy, motivated and trusting team, working together collaboratively and without unnecessary distraction.

Technology..and Time

Building those bonds over the phone is hard, but not impossible.  Technology can help – Skype, Facetime, Webex  etc.  But the most important thing is time. If we don’t put in the time to get to know each other, building a succinct and viable remote team all meeting the desired objectives just won’t happen.


Shona Fletcher, Service Delivery Director

Working in and managing remote teams is more and more common.  In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my experiences, lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

Copyright © 2013 Bray Leino Learning

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