Remote work taught us the importance of these six trust building practices

As we start to consider transitioning back to an office environment, what lessons can we learn from having to work (and trust) remotely?

Grace O'Hara
May 19, 2020

Trusting From Home

While we’ve all been adapting to our “work-from-home” world, I’ve continued to coach leaders, helping them adopt new and better ways to work. For leaders who would usually hold the reins tightly and have all the details of what their teams are working on; the transition to non co-located work has been especially difficult.

Helping leaders trust their teams to do the work they’ve prioritised is my everyday work, but now we have the added bonus of helping build trust remotely.

Here are six essential trust practices I’ve found have helped to enable trust remotely; and which I think are equally useful now that we face heading back to the office:

  1. Know your mission
  2. Have moonshot objectives and measurable key results
  3. Have an agreed system of work
  4. Have a social contract
  5. Create transparency
  6. Serve by removing impediments

Let’s consider each of these.

1. Know Your Mission

I recently coached a client who was disappointed in his team’s lack of eagerness to “get out of their comfort zone”. I asked her if she had explicitly shared her expectations of what the team exists to do. This question was met with silence. “Err, sort of, not really”, was the answer that eventually came back.

If you want to be able to trust your team to complete the mission, then you had better be crystal clear on what it is you are all collectively attempting to achieve. Write this down and connect to it often, using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

2. Have Moonshot Objectives and Measurable Key Results

If you’re a leader and are wondering whether (or not) your team is busy striving for the outcomes you’re expecting, then implementing an OKR (objective and key result) process is a must-have element.

The first part of an OKR is setting objectives that stretch everyone in the direction that’s important for the team. Making it a moonshot ensures the team aspires for it and that it’s difficult (set a high bar). This also guarantees that everyone is aligned to the same direction, supporting trust because you have been explicit on what is important for the team.

The second part of an OKR is the key result. This is the scoreboard to measure if you and the team are tracking towards the objective. Again, this is a trust enabler as you leave the team with a clear set of metrics that objectively measures success.

3. Have An Agreed System Of Work

Without an agreed system of work, people working remotely can become chaotic quickly. A system of work describes how, who and when people connect and collaborate, both to plan and check on how the work is progressing.

I often use agile frameworks as a system of work, but any way of working applies here. Write it down, agree on it and hold each other accountable to follow what has been agreed by utilising a social contract.

4. Have a Social Contract

The social contract outlines how the team is going to work together. This contract has the norms for team behaviour, culture and even specific processes. The secret is using the contract after it has been written; holding each other accountable to what was agreed. Usually I try to get this down to a simple list of statements. Here’s a real example from a team I recently worked with:

  • When we move work we talk to our teammates; we’re clear on responsibilities
  • We welcome ideas and opinions, we listen without judgement; we don’t blame
  • We create confidence & urgency with our plan; we do prioritised, agreed work
  • One team who support each other; we’re calm, have fun and celebrate success
  • We own our issues, we finish what we start with a can-do attitude
  • We raise problems early, speak the truth, value visibility and openness
  • We are clear on our customer needs/priorities

A good social contract helps everyone trust in each other as to the expected behaviours. Leaders don’t have to be the only person managing performance as the team can manage itself.

Here’s a guide our team recently put together to help organisations create a social contract.

Creating a social contract

5. Have Transparency

Trusting a team requires a leader to know what is going on and what will be done by when. That’s why full transparency of status, in real time, is a massive enabler of trust when working remotely. This can also be used in non-remote working environments too.

High transparency is why visual boards are so popular in agile. They help everyone get on the same page and build trust.

An example of a visual board we created with one of our clients, Kolmeo

6. Serve By Removing Impediments

One of the most powerful trust building behaviours leaders can demonstrate is removing impediments — which hinder the team’s ability to meet their OKRs and complete their mission.

Leaders that serve their team by doing this earn the trust they are seeking. This is what servant leadership means in practice.

Final Words

I’m hoping these tips at least prompt you (whether a leader or not) to consider what you can do to build trust, as we all start to return to the office. What’s been interesting as we worked remotely is that it has served to amplify trust issues, but at the same time forced us all to trust our teams more (given we had no choice).

If any of the above six items are something you would like help with, then Beaker & Flint are here to help.


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