Building Trust in Distributed Teams
On agile projects, the daily standup is one of the ways the team members build trust. The team members complete work every day, and make micro-commitments to each other every day. Making and keeping these commitments builds trust. And, when you're not all together, it's just a little more difficult to create that trusting environment; you have to consciously work at it when you're not all on one location. It's even worse if you have the testers in one place and the developers in another, and the product owner in yet another location.
I worked with a team like that. They decided to change their three standup questions so they could build trust even more easily:
- What did you complete and with whom yesterday?
- What are you working on and with whom today?
- What are your impediments?
These questions focus the team on two complimentary pieces of building trust: that people on the team have to work together and that they aim to complete work.
I suggest that people extend trust to build trust. Start with the assumption that the person you’re communicating with wants to do the best by you and the project, rather than presuming the worst.
You cannot tell from reading email what a person is thinking. You can easily misinterpret email. Here are some examples that have happened to me, in just the last month.
- My whacko sense of humor was mistaken for nastiness. Hey, if I'm going to be nasty, you will know. If I'm going to be sarcastic, you'll know that too. I was trying for humor. Guess I wasn't funny. Sigh.
- I was on a plane, returning from Europe, so I was slow to answer a particular email in time for a colleague. He thought I didn't care anymore. No, I care. A lot!
- I thought I had the time to initiate a collaboration with a colleague. But, I got the flu. Then he got the flu. We both want to start this collaboration, and we both need to be healthy at the same time.
I like my colleagues, and consciously work to extend them the benefit of the doubt. Working effectively in a geographically distributed team is a challenge. Whether you have worked together before or not, you still have to build trust and maintain it.
Remember, everyone does the best job they know how to do. Some of us have senses of humor that hinder us more than they might help. Some of us have our “tact filters” turned off at times. Sometimes we’re tired and don’t take the time to think before we respond. On a distributed team it’s important to give the other person the benefit of the doubt in our communications; to be careful about what we say and how we say it to each other.
Extending trust, and finishing a deliverable that helps a team member might go a long way towards building trust on your distributed team.
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