How do I help build trust within my team?

I lead a team of highly talented and very individual people. However, a recent team survey has highlighted a lack of trust and confidence within my team. How do I help build the trust?

I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Trust is the foundation of all successful relationships. In teams and organisations business processes are conducted via relationships and trust is the foundation of healthy and productive relationships. Building trust within your team will be a key ingredient to your teams’ long-term success, the retention of team members, motivation of individuals and productivity.

Trust cannot be demanded of others. If you command the loyalty of others and expect them to follow you, the best you can hope for is a following based on fear.
Trust is experienced based and built up through repeated experiences. If a person proves themselves to be trustworthy, people will trust them. If they show themselves to be the contrary, people will respond appropriately.
Trust is about reliability and doing the right thing. Distrust increases tension and negative behaviour, which can damage the spirit of the team, negatively impacting collaboration and ultimately affect productivity.

As the leader some steps you can take to help build trust in your team are:

  • Create a safe environment where you (or an external person) can facilitate an open and honest discussion about the results of the survey and hear the thoughts and responses from your team members. Set firm ground rules/agreements prior to the discussion taking place.
  • Once your team members have opened up be sure to listen with an open mind and avoid any defensive behaviour. As their leader, model the behaviour you want to see.
  • Focus on the issues presented and solutions going forward, avoiding and not tolerating any personal attacks.
  • Clearly define unacceptable behaviours.
  • Clearly communicate accountabilities and consequences if team members are engaging in unacceptable behaviours.
  • Establish the underlying reasons for the lack of trust within the team.
  • Have a discussion about trust and what actions you can all take to increase trust levels.
  • Discuss the types of behaviours and actions that would promote trust within the team. You may wish to develop an agreed Code of Conduct going forward that clearly communicates acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and actions.
  • Identify the positive outcomes for each team member and the team as a whole by investing in this process. In order for them to act they will need to understand what’s in it for them. Find a compelling reason in which you are all aligned.
  • Take a moment to reflect on how you feel about your team (as a team and also the individuals within the team). Do you trust them? Do your behaviours demonstrate this?
  • Be courageous in your leadership and ask the “hard questions” in service of building and protecting the integrity of the team and the organisation.

Do your team members perceive you as trustworthy? Below are some tips for ensuring that you continue to model and help build a trusting environment:

  • Ensure that you always resolve issues with direct communication to the relevant person/parties, avoiding discussing issues with other team members.
  • Ensure that you acknowledge individuals’/the teams’ contributions both personally and publicly, avoiding taking credit for team/individual achievements yourself.
  • Only make promises that you know you can honour, if you can’t, be honest about it.
  • Be clear and direct in your communication at all times.
  • Schedule regular meetings with team members to discuss on going issues/concerns and successes.
  • Avoid behaviours that erode trust, for example: shaming, belittling, criticising, manipulating, breaking promises, teasing and withdrawing.
  • Engage in behaviour that promotes trust: honesty, congruency, consistency, being authentic, supportive and loyalty.

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian based coaching and training company. In 1990 she co-founded a specialist IT recruitment consultancy in London, which grew to employ 18 people and turnover £11 million ($27 million). In this blog Pollyanna answers questions from our readers on issues they are experiencing leading or being part of a team.  She offers insights on teams and team dynamics. For support and information on team days run by Perspectives Coaching see here. Her previous Blog for SmartCompany, 2nd Time Around was about the mistakes she made and the lessons she learned building a business the first time round and how to do it better second time round.


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