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Building Trust in Teams

Trust is one of the first qualities that comes to mind when one thinks of what is important in relationships of any kind. It is a key prerequisite when entering and sustaining friendships, romantic relationships, business partnerships, employment, and various other kinds of relationships. It is not always inherent in these relationships. One needs to “feel out” the situation, build a sense of trust, test it, work at it some more, sometimes rebuild it, and often begin the cycle again. In other words, building and keeping trust takes work. We cannot assume its presence or take it for granted.

Why is trust important?

Among many reasons why trust is so important, is that it contributes to retention at work. Lack of trust, coupled with fear, is a prescription for a toxic work environment. Trust is also critical for communication and sharing information, which are essential for collaboration, creativity, productivity, and innovation. Think of a time when you did not trust someone, whether it was a team member, a friend, or someone else. How comfortable did you feel sharing information with that person, and how much energy did it take to put up a protective shield?

Without trust there cannot be forward motion. Trust in a team does not mean that everyone agrees about everything or that everyone is “nice” to others all the time, but it does mean that they feel solid and safe despite differences of opinion or escalation of emotion.

Trust fosters a sense of safety, which is essential for effective teams. When team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, be vulnerable, and take appropriate risks. They are not

expending energy in guarding themselves and their interests. Thus, they focus on working together to achieve their goals, which is what they are there to do.

Making space for relationship building

It takes time to build trust among team members. Start by giving space and providing opportunities for building relationships. This allows them to share interests, personal and professional backgrounds, and their skills and knowledge. Managers and leaders can model this by sharing something personal about

themselves. Team members can inquire about co-workers’ families or other things that are shared, while respecting boundaries. Within this framework people are more likely to reach out to each other and to offer help. It increases the human dimension of a highly functioning team.

Setting ground rules

When colleagues work together in teams, it is helpful to have agreed upon guidelines or ground rules that set the norms for behavior in the team. An example might be that team members will listen to each other with an open mind and respect. Another might be avoiding talking behind another’s back. A good time to set ground rules is when a team is forming, and each member can contribute to the rules. New members joining a team need to understand these rules, so that they too can trust and be trusted by the team.

Being transparent

When team leaders and members alike communicate openly and honestly, a sense of trust and ease develops. The team embraces and comes to expect that leaders speak truthfully and transparently. When leaders model transparency, it permeates through the fabric of the team culture. Leaders should also be visible to their teams. The more employees see and get to know their leaders, the more they view them as human beings they can relate to and thus trust.

In addition, when you don’t know something, admit it; you can let others know that you will find out. If it is information you cannot share, state that. People would rather have honesty than incorrect or misleading answers.

Employees will be more supportive of and aligned with the leadership team when they know about the organization's plans, priorities, and challenges.

Talking about trust

Keep at it Check in with your team and assess the level of trust. Reinforce that trust is a key value of the team and find out how they are feeling about it. It is okay to talk about trust and ideas about what could enhance it.

Avoiding blaming

Avoid blaming and shaming employees for mistakes; instead point out the learning opportunity. This approach is more likely to foster trust and innovation. Also, acknowledge employees’ wins and highlight successes. When employees know that you value them and are interested in their growth and development, they have greater allegiance to and trust in leaders and in the company as a whole.

Checking in with employees

Regularly ask your employees how they are doing, what they think, and what changes they would like to see. Inquire about what would help make their jobs easier. Instead of doing an anonymous survey, talk to them directly. When you have to promise anonymity to get honest answers from your employees, you have already lost the battle between fear and trust.

Handing over the “reins”

When leaders and team members trust each other, they can share responsibilities more readily and loosen individual control. They can allow others to make reasonable and intelligent decisions and trust that they will ask for help if needed. Trust also means giving support when it is needed.

The nature of work is changing, especially since the pandemic. Trust is a non-negotiable priority that needs to remain constant for a healthy work environment despite all the changes in work. With remote and hybrid work, it is important to exhibit trust in treating team members as if they were working face to face. Be sure to share information and communicate equally with those working remotely and those working in the office.

Findings from the PwC Pulse Survey indicate that efforts during the pandemic to build trust and work on social issues are showing results with employees. PwC reports, “Almost equal proportions of executives and employees agree that there is a high level of trust between leaders and employees —77% and 72% agree (34% and 35% strongly).” (excerpt from PwC US Pulse Survey: Next in Work) This continues to be paramount, especially as companies navigate hybrid work.

Hopefully with the tips we provided, your leaders and organizations can enhance the level of trust in your teams and report similar findings as PwC.

As Simon Sinek says, “Teams are not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”

What to do TODAY?

Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people access awareness about themselves. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals and bring their best selves to work. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.

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