Empowering the Team

The project manager who empowers the virtual team by providing assistance when needed is exhibiting the interpersonal skills of leadership, team building, motivation, influencing, decision-making, political and cultural awareness, and trust building—to name a few. The successful virtual manager removes roadblocks for the team, acts as a liaison between the team and upper management, can be trusted for open communication and clear expectations, and facilitates discussion and decision-making within the team [27]. The e-leader, who is a model for positive behaviors, empowers the team through encouraging independent thinking and sharing and delegating leadership. Virtual team members work autonomously and therefore often need to make decisions on their own. A project manager experienced in virtual project management (anonymous) says, “Nobody wants to work for dictator project manager. Allowing team autonomy to some extent is key to forming your remote teams.” The role of the manager is to empower the team by letting the team members make decisions, solve problems, and take action through self-management. This encourages and enriches the team experience and builds trust between the manager and team member.

Empowerment can also come from within the team itself. Team members that help one another accomplish shared goals, work together effectively, and respond quickly when problems arise can produce a climate of empowerment for the team. During the planning process early in the project, the virtual team can create a group identity with a team name, logo, slogan, or brand [28]. Team branding can be a good way to establish team pride, encourage pride in the project, and empower individuals to do their best work. Allowing virtual team members to work through conflict themselves and encouraging them to respect and appreciate the contributions of the other team members can contribute to an empowered team culture. Encouraging team members, virtual or traditional, to create purpose and meaning for their work can reinforce and empower individuals to do their best work. Using assignments to increase autonomy and authority to make decisions or offering training opportunities can empower team members. Reinforcing the “team’s sense of pride by periodically reminding team members how what they are doing relates to the big picture” [29] can empower individuals on the team.

Relationship Building and Trust

The complications of time, culture, and distance can greatly affect relationship building and trust on a virtual team. The project manager lays the foundation for trust in the virtual team by providing clear communications through ethical conduct and by demonstrating consistent behaviors and a positive attitude. Trust can easily be broken. Building trust and keeping it takes many behaviors, all important to be exhibited by the project manager. Figure 5-5 lists many of the behaviors that can build and keep trust on the virtual team [30].

Approaches for building trust differ across cultures. A comparison of multicultural perspectives on trust only begins to show the differences the e-leader must address in global teams. Table 5-4 details some perspectives on building trust from four countries: United States, India, France, and Germany [31]. The complexity and differences in perspectives dealing with building trust are evident in the cultural differences regarding how trust is built between individuals on teams.

There are many ways to address the topic of trust. In a team meeting, the project manager can ask the team members how trust affects the virtual work environment, and how lack of trust affects the work. Team members can be asked to list what they feel are the top three factors of trust through asynchronous technology and anonymously by poll or survey. The project manager can then relate the most common factors to the group in a synchronous meeting and encourage discussion. Individual team members can be asked to keep a “trust log” [32] to track their actions, words, and decisions relating to the trust factors. The project manager can use these logs to observe and monitor trust issues in the team. The team can periodically share their logs as part of a regular team meeting and use them to

Behaviors for keeping and building trust

Figure 5.5 Behaviors for keeping and building trust.

Table 5.4 Country Comparisons to Building Trust on Multicultural, Global Teams


Perspectives on How to Build Trust

United States

Make deadlines, deliver on commitments, communicate candidly and clearly, act quickly and decisively, and treat everyone as equals


Listen to explanations, encourage collaborative input, don't accept ambiguous responses as "yes" or "no" without discussion, focus on building relationships— not timelines


Provide the big picture and avoid details, allow time for debate, provide guidelines and processes, encourage clarity and logic, recognize chain of authority


Be punctual and efficient, allow time for conversation and explanation, provide analytical information for decision-making discussions, and present items in logical order

open discussion on trust issues. An example of a possible trust log is shown in Figure 5-6.

Asking newly formed virtual team members to individually list the challenges and opportunities they think they will have in the virtual environment [33] can begin a conversation that lays the foundations for relationship building and trust. This can be done with asynchronous technology. From the list provided by individual team members, the project manager can consolidate the top five to seven opportunities and challenges and then ask the team to rank them in importance. Then, bringing the team together in a synchronous meeting to discuss the top- ranking opportunities and challenges can provide an opportunity for open discussion on the concerns of the team. It can also provide the groundwork for the team’s procedures, processes, and “rules” for working together.

Example trust log

Figure 5.6 Example trust log.

Table 5.5 Country Comparisons to Breaking Trust on Multicultural, Global Teams


Perspectives on How Trust Can Be Broken

United States

Boasting about credentials or position/power, insisting on protocol, causing work to slow without apparent reason


Focusing on multicultural differences and language barriers, not asking what is needed or missing for the project work to be completed, focusing on deadlines


Not allowing time for debate, not explaining directives and decisions, ignoring chain of authority, not acknowledging accomplishments, poor work-life balance


Rushing decisions, ignoring protocol, changing or missing deadlines, ignoring cultural and language differences, smoothing over bad news

Just as trust can be built, trust can also be broken. Table 5-5 details perspectives from four countries (United States, India, France, and Germany) on how trust can be destroyed in a virtual team [34]. The diversity in perspectives is evident in the cultural differences regarding how trust can be broken between individuals on virtual teams.

Nonthreatening interaction can build trust and help teams overcome virtual challenges, while also emphasizing the opportunities that virtual work can offer. Placing a positive spin on the benefits of virtual project work can ultimately determine the team’s attitude and ability to relate to each other. To deliver results as a virtual project manager, it is essential to understand how to develop trust in the multicultural, global team environment. Building trust is a competency that is developed over time and is not an easy competency to achieve. Building trust is hard for any team, and the challenges of virtual, multicultural team members increase this difficulty. The virtual project leader needs to set the proper tone, create opportunities for trust building, and work immediately with new teams on creative ways to build trust in the virtual environment.

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