Trust is an essential foundation of high team performance. Without trust we can’t build relationships, conduct work with interdependence, be creative or leverage each other’s talents effectively.
Trust is hard to define and harder to measure. How do you know when you have it? Do you give trust or wait for it to be earned? Once broken can it be re-built? There is no definite answer to these questions and the concept of what trust is and how it works can differ from one person to the next.
What we know is that teams without trust will fail to develop and improve, they will get stuck in mediocracy and blaming, politics and uncertainty will prevail.
If you are a team leader what can you do to build more trust in your workplace?
Your team members need to know that you care about them as people, not just for what they can contribute. To really care for your team members means that you consider their needs and act in their best interest. You take an interest in their lives and treat them with respect and kindness. In your interactions, you act with empathy and assume positive intent. You look out for their career development and mentor them in their growth. Even if this means their development takes them out of your team. Your caring management approach will have all the best people fighting to be their replacement.
To build a collaborative environment is to constantly look for opportunities where team members can benefit from each other’s skills and talents. As the leader, you need to encourage this by creating the environment and equipping your team with the tools to do this. Role model the way by establishing regular team meetings and in those meetings demonstrate collaborative behaviours like ensuring input from everyone, listening intently and valuing diverse ideas.
Equip the team with the knowledge on each other’s strengths so they can form powerful partnerships. By understanding everyone’s strengths, talents and weaknesses the team build appreciation, relationships and trust.
A lack of communication from the top means that others will fill in the blanks and inevitably get it wrong. Make regular, meaningful communication with your team and each person individually a regular habit. Ideally, you should have a meaningful check-in with each team member each week. This is an opportunity to connect, make sure priorities are aligned and for each person to raise anything that needs to be discussed.
Communicate the good and the bad. When things aren’t going well it easy to retreat into your office and not face the team. Trust is built and cemented in these moments. Take the more difficult road of engaging with your team in an open and honest way.
Do you perform your role well? To build trust your team needs to see you as a role model for how to perform with excellence. Leaders that successfully build trust in this way will embrace learning and new ways of doing things. They will seek out feedback to improve their performance and be at the cutting edge of their field. This is about focussing on what you do well, having strong self-awareness about what your strengths are and being able to admit your weaknesses. This might look like, asking for help from others where you needed it and encouraging open conversations about strengths and weaknesses.
Consistency means that you do what you say you will do. Your team needs to know that your words are reliable. Do you follow through on promises? Do you under promise and over deliver? We look for consistency in others and use that as a judgement on their character. Consistency also means that you treat people fairly. You don’t have favourites and have one rule for one person and another for everyone else.
Leaders that build trust have clear values and act consistently with their values. Team members have a clear awareness of what is acceptable and what is not and can use this awareness to make decisions.
All of this requires vulnerability on the leaders part. This means you are prepared to step outside of your comfort zone and step into uncertain interpersonal situations with courage. Build the relationships first as people will not care what you know until they know that you care.