Trust can be considered the cornerstone of effective teamwork or group activities. However, for team operations to proceed smoothly without complications, norms must be established within the group. Norms are usually the undocumented guidelines that dictate how people should behave or carry themselves in a group. Norms usually develop with time as group members spend more time together in their daily operations. Due to short production cycles, content expertise and other organizational constraints however, the need for virtual teams has become increasingly high. This creation of virtual teams makes the development of trust and group norms much harder given the obvious complication of different locations. This paper aims at discussing various communication and task norms that can be established to enhance trust and performance of virtual teams.
Communication norms generally dictate how information is distributed and shared within the group. As such, communication norms can be divided further into four categories namely: availability norms which establish what intervals group members should be available. Appropriateness and use of collaboration tools determine the tools that should be used in communication along with the purpose for their use. Exchange norms to establish who should receive certain information so as to prevent complications like information overload. Finally, structure norms dictate whether the communication channels used should be formal or informal.
Meetings should start and end on time. It is clear that the most significant challenge in virtual teams is location. Given that, it is possible that different team members will be located in different time zones. The group leader should carefully assess the different time zones and come up with an agreeable time for everybody. In spite of careful planning, it might not be possible to set a convenient time for everybody and others might find the time set to coincide with nighttime. Team members should understand this and the team leader should make sure it is not the same people always being inconvenienced. The meeting should always start and end on time even if some members become late. The late members should be liable and they should find a means to catch up on their own. Good time keeping will eventually build trust since the team members are confident that their time will not be wasted. Everybody will strive to be on time so as not to let the others or himself down (Settle-Murphy, 2012)
Emails are used to essentially inform and alert, versus to share documents. This requires all members to learn how to effectively use e-mails, when to use them, and the purpose for using them. Given the nature of virtual teams, there should be a universal mode of communication and this includes deciding on common tool for various tasks. It would be ineffective is each member used their own means for example drop box while team members expect e-mails. Besides, this makes it easier to access all the shared information in one portal (Settle-Murphy, 2012
“To”,” Cc” are used in email lists with intention. It should be clearly understood by all group members what it means to be on the “to” or “Cc” list. Members on the “to” list should read the message and take action on it while members on the “cc” list may choose to read the content or not. This is important to prevent information overload and finger pointing when a task is not accomplished. As everybody does what is required of him or her, group members build trust in each other by having the confidence that fellow members will do what is required of them (Settle-Murphy, 2012)
Scheduled meetings should be via teleconferencing. Team members should agree on the official means of communications. Formal meetings involving all members of the team should be conveyed in one agreed upon channel. Team members should however be free to use other informal channels like phone calls and random emails to reach specific members of the team for a clarification or just catching up. Formal language should also be used in scheduled meetings while members may be allowed to be more casual in one on one interactions as this even builds trust (Settle-Murphy, 2012
Everyone participates fully in meetings. Group members should fully concentrate on meeting proceedings. When it is time to listen everybody stays quiet so as not to create noise disturbances. People should not try to multitask while on session. Additionally, every team member should participate and share when called upon. The feeling that everybody is committed to the task at hand and sharing freely creates a form of bonding which enhances trust (Settle-Murphy, 2012
Task and work norms on the other hand dictate how group work and organized and monitored. Process norms lay out the “lifecycle” for the project. Task norms guide the team on routine and non-routine work. Accountability norms establish time frames for when deliverables should be presented and the consequences for failing to do so. Resource norms outline how team members work on shared resources.
Everybody should give an outline of what he or she will be working on for the day to the team leader. To ensure coordination of processes, the team leader should be aware of what each team member is working on. Besides, this also helps in assigning more tasks since the team leader has an insight on how long each members task should take (Karten, 2003)
All templates will be kept in the routine folder. Some tasks usually require repetition. To help save time, a common folder containing form templates for routine world should be shared and members given access to it. This is effective in that there will be a common format for all routine activities done by different members as well as time saving compared to when each member decides on how to represent each routine task (Mattison, 2011)
Weekly work sheets will be delivered every Friday. For every team member to be accountable for his work, norms such as the one mentioned above should be put in place. This makes team members to be more vigilant in their work since they are aware that they have to reach a defined level of accomplished to be regarded as productive. Clearly laid up consequences for those who fail to meet agreed deadlines should also be outlined (Karten, 2003)
Access to resources will be done through a certain member of the group. All shared resources should be managed at a common location and preferably by a single individual. This sorts out issues of security, updates and storage since one individual is held responsible. When everybody has access to all shared materials, some materials may be deleted or compromised in another way and it would be almost impossible to point out the culprit (Mattison, 2011)
Timelines should be met promptly. It should be clear in everybody’s mind that deadlines are crucial in project management.one unfulfilled task may be holding back the whole team preventing them to proceed to the next stage. Timelines should however be set realistically so as to ensure quality work. Strict timelines give a lot of pressure that may lead to poor work being done (Karten, 2003)
Creating and supporting trust within virtual teams is filled with complexity yet it is critical to effective project completion. Open indicators like reputation, role, and rules combined with an individual’s perception of trust determine the initial trust. Cognitive trust emerges later after team members assess each other’s integrity and abilities. Later, full trust is determined by continued assessment of integrity and benevolence. In virtual groups, patterns of communication and the reward plan impact how communication is deciphered and how the determinants of trust are evaluated. It is therefore critical how communication, task and other norms are implemented as these small indicators are what virtual team members will use in establishing each other’s trust (Greenberg, Greenberg, and Lederer, 2007)
Greenberg, P. S., Greenberg, R. H., & Lederer, Y. (2007). Creating and sustaining trust in virtual teams. Business Horizons, 50(4). 325-333
Settle-Murphy, N. (2012). “Untangle your Virtual Team with 10 Most-Needed Norms.” Guided Insights online. Retrieved from: http://www.guidedinsights.com/newsletter_detail.asp?PageID=11004
Karten, N. (2003). Creating Team Norms. Retrieved from http://www.stickyminds.com/sitewide.asp?Function=edetail&ObjectType=COL&ObjectId=6736
Mattison, T. (2011). Virtual teams and e-collaboration technology: A case study investigating the dynamics of virtual team communication (Order No. 3515736). Available from ABI/INFORM Complete. (1022640747). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1022640747?accountid=45049