In this collaborative working world, you could find yourself needing to work closely with someone you’ve never heard of before, have never met face-to-face and who comes without all the usual reassurances of being known by someone else within your enterprise — in short, a total stranger.
Oh, and you have to create a close, productive way of working together almost instantly. Welcome to work in the joined-up world. It’s a strange situation where the faster-faster-faster speed of business and technological advances that create connections between people who have never met before, combine — turning traditional ways of building and maintaining teams on their head. This is where collaborative working and its supporting tools come in; but these are nothing without trust.
Clarity, planning, openness and shared responsibility
When all you have in common is the ability to connect, then trust must be crafted (rather than left to emerge organically) and actively maintained.
Peculiarly, in a fast-moving, ever-evolving world, what underpins trust across distance is what some might see as an old-fashioned rigorous adherence to agreed structures and goals. Without the luxury of being able to pick up on physical cues or the chance to get to know one another in person, trust in a virtual team member has to be worked on, in several ways.
- Start with clarity. Establish team and individual expectations and define roles and responsibilities. Be explicit not implicit.
- Plan it out. Define and agree protocols for working practices and get commitment from all team members as to how collaborative tools will be used.
- Agree to openness. Share where you are, when you’re working and what you’re doing. Signpost when you’re available for contact. Take away the uncertainly, the reluctance to ‘bother’ someone, and give reassurance about your availability to contribute. If anything, over-share to remove doubts that you’re out of touch or out of control.
- Share responsibility. It takes effort and commitment to make remote working relationships and collaborative practices successful. Participants need to understand they drive collaborative working; it’s not ‘done’ to them. As collaborative tools develop so must users and their team practices.
- Check in, monitor, track. Measure and manage by outcome, not by presence. Update plans and share progress regularly.
- Create social opportunities. Actively develop online and offline mechanisms to foster a social relationship; instant messaging, social networking, or just having a chat over the phone, coffee in hand — all can lead to that moment where you do get a picture of who someone is and the stranger recedes.
You can legislate for trust in a working relationship. With the right approach and the right tools working with a stranger can be productive in an extremely short space of time.