I've been running networking dinners with Fortune 500 execs and celebrities for a decade. Here are my 5 strategies for building trust within remote teams.

  • Jon Levy has successfully built a community of influential people through trust-building events.
  • What he learned about relationships has helped him bring his events into the virtual world.
  • He says leaders can build trust in remote teams through psychological safety and “the IKEA effect.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For the past decade, I’ve used my expertise in behavioral science to build a community of thousands of Fortune 500 executives, Nobel laureates, celebrities, Olympians, and even influencers. These industry leaders — in groups of 12 — would come to my home to cook me dinner and build trusted friendships in the process.

When I started these “Influencers” dinners, I had no status, money, or access, but I was able to build this community based on trust.

In 2020, as the world began working remotely, I took our community gatherings virtual, and they thrived. That’s because we understood that for groups to function remotely, we needed to change our approach.

While researching my new book, “You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence,” what became clear was that our success is defined by who we’re connected to, how much they trust us, and the sense of belonging we share. In fact, your company stock value, employee sick days, and profitability are all tied to the level of trust your employees feel. 

As we struggle with solidifying remote teams and hybrid workforces, these factors have never been more important.

Here are five strategies for leaders to help team members communicate openly with each other and boost morale and trust:

Don’t micromanage people — it suggests you don’t trust them

One of the biggest problems we face is that managers are used to managing people. As the physical distance grows, managing people turns into micromanaging, and as a result, people end up on far too many Zoom meetings.

Instead, managers need to focus on outcomes. This means empowering team members to make competent decisions, being a resource to keep projects on course, and getting roadblocks out of the way.

We have to be deliberate about how and when we communicate progress. To reduce concerns, we also need to foster more trust between team members — this would allow us to give people the benefit of the doubt since we no longer have the convenience of bumping into them in the hallway or cafeteria to check up on how things are going. 

Foster joint efforts

Unfortunately, most of the techniques we use to build trust, like giving people gifts or taking them to expensive meals, isn’t what causes us to trust one another.

Instead, it turns out we need to do the opposite — we need to get them invested. This is known as the IKEA effect.

People care more about their IKEA furniture because they have to assemble it themselves. If we want greater trust among teams, we have to find ways to have team members invest effort in one another. This will cause them to care more about one another.

For example, instead of having a Zoom happy hour, have team members play games as small teams with each other. These games can be anything from Quiplash and Kahoot! to Jeopardy or trivia. The shared effort will cause them to care more about one another and lead to greater levels of trust.

Be vulnerable

The IKEA effect works because of something called vulnerability loops.

There is a misconception that trust precedes vulnerability, but the truth is when we signal vulnerability, it gives people an opportunity to signal vulnerability back. As a result, trust increases.

For example, if I tell my coworker I’m overwhelmed, that signals vulnerability. If they ignore me or make fun of me, trust is reduced, but if they acknowledge that and share how overwhelmed they’ve been feeling as well, we’ve both demonstrated that we’re safe with each other and trust is increased.

When we participate in a game, activity, or project, it allows for people to open and close vulnerability loops quickly, and as a byproduct trust will be increased.

A vulnerability loop doesn’t require talking about embarrassing memories of our childhood or recalling our fears — it could simply be asking for a coworker’s advice or putting ourselves out there and inviting them to hang out.

Focus on psychological safety

When Google looked at the greatest predictor of team success, it wasn’t IQ or tenure — it was psychological safety.

This is the feeling that we can express our opinion, especially if that opinion disagrees with others, without the risk of being punished or kicked out of the group.

For human beings, there’s no greater punishment than exile or isolation. We want to make sure that people are receiving cues for belonging so they know that they’re a valued part of the team and aren’t going to be kicked out.

When you look at research on company stock value, employee sick days, and profitability, researcher Paul Zak discovered they can all be traced to the level of organizational trust — meaning, the more we feel we belong, the harder we work, and the more successful the company will be.

Don’t confuse shyness and introversion

The prevailing view is that introverts recharge from time alone, while extroverts gain energy from being extremely social.

Being an introvert is very different from being shy or inhibited. Shyness is the fear of social judgment based on our interactions. The opposite of that is being so uninhibited that we say and do inappropriate things.

Shyness may be more about building a muscle. Make sure those who are shy can practice expressing themselves and connecting with others in a safe environment. Meanwhile, introverts may need coaxing, or they may do better in one-on-one or in smaller group conversations.   

The truth is our lives are defined by our relationships. When we understand the science of how we connect, we uncover possible strategies and approaches that have an incredible ability to influence our teams, organizations, and careers.  

Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist and author best known for his work in influence, human connection, and decision-making. 

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