Trust is essential for creative, collaborative work. Creative, collaborative teams need to be able to disagree… without everything falling apart.
They need the magic of creative abrasion to build on, and polish, each other’s ideas, moving away from “ruinous empathy” and towards clear decisions on which options deserve to be tested, and which to test next. For that, trust within the team is essential.
All that is just as true when not everybody’s based in the same location. Distributed teams need trust in order to collaborate on creative work.
How to build that trust in your distributed team? My three top tips:
- Have actual conversations
- In those conversations, ask lots of non-judgmental clarifying questions
- When you ask questions, listen to the answers!
These tips aren’t rocket science. But they seem to be challenging for a lot of distributed teams.
1. Have Actual Conversations
Talk to each other in real time, using video wherever possible. The apparent ease of email or Slack chat is terrifically tempting, especially for the simple stuff. But over time, people who don’t talk tend to lose touch… and trust may start to melt away.
While examples of great team trust being created over asynchronous text-based media do exist – I’ve experienced those situations myself – they are the exception.
Get yourselves on frequent video calls, ideally one-on-one or in very small groups (up to five people). See each other’s faces. Notice the difference it makes to trust within your distributed team.
(It’s also a great way to reduce loneliness and feelings of isolation that can arise when home working.)
2. Ask Lots Of Non-Judgmental Questions
Once you’re having conversations, its time to increase their quality.
By asking non-judgmental questions, you’re learning about your colleagues and their thinking and working styles.
At the same time, by doing this you and your team will be practising one of the most important skills in creative collaboration. Asking non-judgmental questions can easily become “just how we do things around here.”
In my workshops, I introduce two kinds of questions.
1. Quick Questions: You might know these as warm-ups, icebreakers or group glue. Questions that everyone can answer, fast. Questions like, “What time of day do you do your best work?” Discover the fascinating diversity in your team.
2. Questions That Go Deeper: I love to use Clean Language questions and questions that involve metaphor. An example starter question would be, “When you are working at your best, you are like… what?” I’d follow that by getting people asking the two Lazy Jedi questions:
- What kind of X?
- Is there anything else about X?
(“X” represents one or more of the person’s own words. Ask the questions in any order, as many times as you like, for two or three minutes.)
3. Listen To The Answers!
“The quality of your attention can determine the quality of another person’s thinking,” says Nancy Kline. People do their best thinking when they feel listened to.
So, when you’re online with your colleagues, actually be present. Turn off the distractions and focus.
Another quote. “A good listener is not only popular everywhere. After a while, they get to know something.” (Wilson Mizner) Why not try it?
- Of course, there’s more to building trust than these three tips: when I do development work with distributed teams we go a whole lot deeper. How else do you build trust in your distributed team? Please comment below.