Earning trust takes different steps in different cultures Edit Title

Celia, Ben's new team leader in Milan, seemed completely committed to delivering a crucial marketing plan on time when they spoke earlier this week. Trouble is, she hasn't. So far, Ben has sent two "friendly" emails, and just now he sent Celia an IM "just to see where we are." Celia's tone has become increasingly cool. Ben is at a loss. He knows that cultures regard punctuality differently and he's aware that Celia may regard him as a micromanager. Still, that marketing plan must be on his VP's desk tomorrow, or his team may lose all of the needed funding.

In essence, Ben is no longer sure he can count on Celia to deliver on her commitments. Celia, meanwhile, is upset that Ben feels compelled to check in so frequently. After all, she's working as fast as she can, and she's not really late yet, at least according to her calculations. Since they have few, if any, opportunities to sort out their differences in real-time, this once-promising relationship is now at risk.

Cultivating trust is one of the most critical success factors for any global team. It's also the hardest. Once breached, trust is exceedingly difficult to repair, given the rare opportunities for frequent, meaningful interaction. For cross-cultural teams, relationship-building is even harder, since it's so easy to misinterpret each other's intentions and make incorrect assumptions in the absence of visual cues.

Joining me in authoring this piece are Caroline Beery and Manuel Heidegger, Director and Manager of Argonautonline, an online cultural assessment and eLearning tool. This article, the first of a series, will focus on how different attributes, behaviors and attitudes are seen as trustworthy (or not) by a handful of cultures. Although it's true that all people deserve to be treated as individuals, virtual team leaders can accelerate the process of building trust across their teams by understanding certain patterns of behaviors within cultures.

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