Virtual Team: 4 Questions to Identify your Allies Part 2

By Ruby Vesely on January 2, 2018

According to Morag Barrett, in the book Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships, there are four questions that can help identify if you are in an Ally relationship:
  • Can I count on you?
  • Can I depend on you?
  • Do I care about you?
  • Do I trust you?
Last week I shared my suggestions for getting to ‘yes’ for the first two questions. This week I have suggestions on how to move toward Ally relationships with remote team members and get to “yes!” for the final two questions.

Do I care about you?

This question is more interpersonal in nature. Do you know what is important to your co-workers (i.e. family, hobbies, friends, interests, etc.)? Do you connect on a personal level? How to get a “yes”:
  • Go “off script”. You will need to veer away from the work discussion and check in with your teammates. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about their personal lives, but you do need to somehow show that you acknowledge they are not just robots doing work for you!
  • Call when you don’t need something. This is true in all relationships, but for a virtual team it is crucial. If you only call when you need something, your critical stakeholders may stop taking your calls! Schedule “random” calls if you need to – it will be well worth it.
  • Follow up on what you have learned. If you know your colleague’s birthday, make a note on your calendar so that you can acknowledge it. If you find out that one of your teammates is running in a 5K this weekend, ask how it went on Monday. Take notes if you need to – there is no shame in this! When you follow up, it demonstrates that you were paying attention and have an interest in your teammate’s life outside of work.
  • Schedule “white space” in virtual and face-to-face meetings. At SkyeTeam, when asked to lead a team session, we always encourage creating time for team members to simply spend unplanned time together. This small talk will help you learn new things about each other and can turn into deeper conversations and relationships.
  • Do something unexpected. A colleague of mine at a high-tech company has team members in India. To celebrate one of their holidays, he arranged for a local delivery of traditional food. He had asked another colleague in India what he should send – so that it was something the team in India appreciated, rather than what my colleague thought they might like. This simple unexpected act demonstrated very quickly to the team in India that he cared about them.

Do I trust you?

This is what truly differentiates your relationships from acquaintance to trusted coworker, friend, and Ally. Do you allow yourself to be seen at your best and your worst? Can you have candid conversations with others? How to get a “yes”:
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable. The only way to build trust on the team is to assume you can trust your team members until you are proven otherwise. I know – it’s scary, right? The fastest route to trust is to give it. You do not have time to waste when building a virtual relationship. Otherwise, it could be years before you build that trust; and given the rate of organizational change, that will be too late.
  • Put yourself out there! You need to share with others about your own life. Be open. Remember that no one knows what is going on with you – especially in a virtual environment. You could sit at home all day stressing about something that others could help you with, but no one would ever know. This is harder to hide in an office environment when your co-workers see you every day and know when you are acting differently than usual.
  • Don’t force the face-to-face meeting, but recognize its value and know when it is needed. Face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable when trying to build trust and necessary at some point in the relationship if at all possible. I work on a virtual team, and we have to determine when our face-to-face meetings are the best choice. We each spend one hour in the car on the way there (my colleague calls this “windshield time”), one hour in the car on the way home, and mileage (company expense) for a one-hour face-to-face meeting. And, we still have the two hours of work to do (that we missed because of windshield time) when we got back to our offices. It doesn’t make logical sense, but sometimes it is the right choice so that we can continue to build that interpersonal connection and have the important face-to-face conversations. At the very least, use Google chat or Skype. This virtual face-to-face can be powerful as well, especially in one-on-one conversations.
  • Emails are not going to cut it. You cannot build trust in a relationship based only on email interactions. You can move to an “email only” exchange, but only after you have done the work, built the trust, and earned the right to communicate in this way. At SkyeTeam, we talk a lot about communication and especially email messages. No matter how carefully you craft a message, the receiver always gets to interpret it. This interpretation could depend on how well (or not well) you have written the message, the receiver’s mood when reading the message, other things that are going on that day for the person, etc. You will have to do something more than email to build a deep trusting relationship.
What is one thing you will do differently to build Ally relationships and get to four “yeses” with your virtual team members?

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