Sixty percent of communication is non verbal, so without visual clues people often have to interpret the real meaning of a message – and often get it wrong. In an increasingly globalised world and the rise of virtual, geographically distributed teams, the rules and effectiveness of electronic communications are changing as virtual teams struggle to be as successful as ‘traditional’ co-located teams.
Seemingly harmless behaviour by colleagues such as the over-dependence on email, failure to respond to messages and using inappropriate modes of communication can damage trust and hamper progress of critical projects. Unknowingly, the trust formed within virtual teams that neglect the need to socialise, make eye contact and establish up-to-date communication guidelines is often fragile and easily compromised.
The new Cisco study, The Psychology of Effective Business Communications in Geographically Dispersed Teams, carried out by occupational psychology specialists, Pearn Kandola, examines the trust-eroding phenomena that plague many virtual teams. It compares the pros and cons of computer-based communication with face-to-face interactions; discusses the use of richer media, particularly voice and video communications, in helping to establish and build relationships; and identifies new rules for communicating that will help virtual teams to work together successfully.
Other key findings and recommendations include:
It takes a minimum of two weeks before relationships based on electronic communications are as socially grounded as face-to-face relationships.
It can take up to 17 weeks for multi-cultural teams to become as effective, and to start to outperform teams of the same culture.
Spontaneous, ad-hoc and rich-media communications that convey a wider range of social information can help overcome stereotypes and help build trust more quickly
‘Virtual Silence’ caused by an unexplained failure to respond to electronic messages has a damaging effect on trust in virtual teams.
A team member’s silence is often misinterpreted as it can mean they agree, they disagree, they are physically absent or they are experiencing a technology failure.
Ability to monitor a colleague’s availability can help overcome virtual silences