10 simple ways to build trust in teams

Building the most fundamental factor for high performance teams

Fundamental to the success of a team is the ability of its members at every level to trust one another. Trust is an essential component in any relationship, and is critical to work-based teams as there are so many environmental factors which typically prevent it. The majority of my clients are looking for ways to build trust throughout their organisations, and so below I have compiled 10 simple steps you can take to create and maintain team trust and consequently, see performance soar!

1. Get to know one another

The majority of work teams know one another professionally and perhaps have some insight into each others’ day-to-day personal lives. What is not often shared is history, and even a non-invasive exercise to share some personal history can give context to our lives, behaviours and qualities.

The following exercise is taken from 5 Dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni. It will take your teams around 20 minutes to conduct this exercise and the result will be removal of pre-judgments, increased empathy and uncovering of common experiences. The more we have in common with one another, the better rapport we will build and the stronger trust will develop.  

Exercise: Think back to when you were a child growing up and share the following with your team:

  • Your hometown

  • The number of children in the family (you were 1 of….)

  • Your main hobby as a child

  • Your biggest challenge growing up

  • Your first job

2. Be honest about what you don’t know

Humility is a quality rarely shown in the workplace. The majority of individuals are focused on demonstrating their worth in any way possible, and are often not prepared to share their limitations for fear of the consequences. However, an ability to communicate both your strengths and the gaps in your knowledge/experience makes for better and speedier problem-solving, learning and ultimately trust. It is true that humility is more likely to be exercised when trust exists, however demonstrating humility also builds trust.

3. Ask for help

Similarly to the idea above, another way to demonstrate humility it by asking for help. Whilst there are merits to working to problem-solve yourself, where you simply don’t have the experience, asking for help demonstrates one of the most important qualities for trust;  vulnerability.

It is especially powerful when a team leader asks for help from their team, as leading by example in this way will cascade the behaviour throughout the team. There is a common misconception that team leaders are expected to be experts, and it simply isn’t true. Leaders embody a whole host of qualities which create influence, one of which is humility and the strength to admit when they would value/need help.

4. Allow mistakes

Demonstrating trust in your team members will both empower and elevate them to higher performance. To build trust in your team (which will of course benefit you) it is imperative to be comfortable handing over the power to make decisions knowing that this may result in mistakes.

Grace Hopper once said:

“It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission”

A leader who allows their team to work this way will reap significant benefits. A team of decision-makers, empowered to push forward with projects, learn from mistakes and build experience, is the recipe for long-term success and creates the freedom for true leadership (rather than micromanagement).

5. Delegate a high value task

Adding to the above point, a further step to empowering your team and thus demonstrating trust is to delegate high value tasks. Every now and again where a deadline allows, build time into the project to give a strong team member the opportunity to deliver a high value project on your behalf. Firstly, you may be surprised by the outcome, and that team member may be able to take more projects from you than you first thought. Secondly, by working on your ability to trust, you are improving the confidence of the team member, engaging them by demonstrating the opportunity for their development, and showing them how to trust in their own team (or team-to-be).

6. Demonstrate your individuality

Nobody needs a team of leaders, or there would be nobody to lead! Teams work best when they represent diversity and individuality. Teams are wonderful because they are made of people, and people are unique; they have varied ideas, opinions, experiences and strengths. The more open a team is to celebrating the individuals who make up the collective, the better this team will utilise their strengths and trust one another.

The key is to confidently demonstrate your own individuality, creating a safe environment for others to do the same. Unashamedly share your ideas, opinions, preferences, experiences, strengths and limitations - share what makes you, you, and watch what happens. To read more about celebrating individuality and focussing on team strengths, read How to create exceptional team performance from a groups of individuals.

7. Show and encourage compassion

According to Frances Frei, empathy is a critical part of building trust. Showing compassion to a fellow team mate is a simple, human way to build trust with one another. Whilst your relationship is professional, it does not stop you from checking in with them and offering some support in an area they may be struggling with.

Whilst most people will show compassion naturally, there are work environments, particularly in some large corporations, where compassion is traded in for blame and competition. Where a colleague is struggling on a given task due to a lack of experience, there is an opportunity to offer support and empathy. Don’t allow this opportunity to be instead used by people who want to elevate their own status (by showcasing their colleague’s inexperience) or cover themselves from any mistakes made by the employee to senior management. Keep an eye out for these behaviours and address them, avoid them and demonstrate the opposite, compassion,  to build trust.

8. Give opportunities for people to demonstrate competence

Humans are terrible for pre-judging individuals based on experiences/stereotyping. One of the best ways to remove these judgments and build trust amongst team members, is to give ample opportunity for each team member to demonstrate their competence, their logic, their worth.

We take for granted that when a new employee joins the business, they have only demonstrated their ability to the recruiters, often in senior positions. New joiners often have to wait a long time for their ability to be recognised by, or in front of their colleagues. This time delay creates a breeding ground for judgment.

Create opportunities for team members to demonstrate their competence to one another; group idea generation/innovation sessions, best practice sharing, buddying systems for people to share their work with one another. The sooner a person is able to demonstrate their ability, the sooner trusting relationships will form across the team.

9. Share your vision

Every human needs purpose, and yet so many of us work without it. The difference between a good team and an amazing team often comes down to the leaders’ ability to share their vision and give the team and the individuals within it a sense of purpose.

As a leader we should be considering our purpose both on a personal and team level; what are we striving to achieve? Get your vision down on paper and share it with your team, tell them what your plans are and where you are all collectively heading. Once a team sees your vision and feels a sense of purpose (which will come from repeating it consistently), they will have trust in you, the process, the goal and the team.

10. Remove blame

A team will trust one another, their leader and the organisation when they truly feel they can demonstrate vulnerability, humility and individuality without blame or finger-pointing. Creating a culture without blame starts at the top; mistakes and problems move from a fault-finding mission, to an opportunity to collaborate and find solutions. Embody this no-blame culture and your team will feel totally free to bring something to the table, speak up when things are good or bad and ask for help. Trust will skyrocket.

If you are looking to develop trust within your team, perhaps have challenges with conflict or disengagement or simply want to enhance relationships and performance, book a complimentary call with Steph to learn how to implement trust techniques and see quick results.. Email Steph to arrange your call here.

SGH Coaching deliver training to build top performance teams. Training centres on enhancing soft skills and includes follow-through techniques to ensure behavioural change.

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