Effective teams exhibit a number of common characteristics.  In an earlier article, we identified four critical attributes.  

  1. Members actively support each other so the team succeeds as a whole.
  2. Teams actively interact and communicate.
  3. The team has a common goal.
  4. How work is performed.

A coach or Scrum Master can assess and even reinforce attributes in order to improve team performance and cohesion. Of the four attributes, the first two: supporting each other and communicating are more difficult to build and maintain in virtual relationships because they are based on trust. Trust is harder to earn in remote teams therefore developing an effective team is harder.

One key contributor to building trust is keeping your word (or doing what you say you’re going to do). In Scrum teams pull and complete work in a sprint, the same mechanism occurs daily at the individual level during sprint planning and the Daily Scrum. Professionally this an important tool for building professional trust. However, in co-located teams team members interact, set expectations, and then perform against those expectations on many other levels. The lack of nuanced social interaction means that trust is built only on control, formal professional interactions which at best takes longer or at worst is weaker.

A second important contributor to trust is open participation. The point of the open office movement over the last two decades was to create opportunities for team members to actively interact and collaborate. Participation includes actively listening, delivering respectful feedback, and contributing to the pool of knowledge (See Crucial Conversations Re-read). Meetings are a fixture of office life and provide a platform to apply open participation techniques.  Again the downside in distributed scenarios is that the less formal interactions either don’t happen or happen in exclusive groups. Again, if left unaddressed the lack of social interaction other than control professional situations negatively affects the development of trust across a team. 

A third contributor to trust is sharing feelings. There is a reason the 6th principle in the Agile Manifesto talks about face to face communication. While technology has improved so that intimate communication can occur even when teams are remote, teams and organizations must use the tools. Too many remote team members have taped over their cameras and refuse to meet virtually face-to-face.  Teleconferences and email have their place, but they are not intimate and should not be the default communication tool if you need to build trust quickly. 

Trust improves communication and psychological safety so the team can ask for and receive help. Teams can exist without trust but they will not be very effective.

Next:  Building Trust On Remote Teams