This article is a dive into the profundity of trust in teams through understanding the causes of the absence of trust, action steps you can take to start building it back, and a shift in mindset and view towards leadership.
Anyone who coaches you on teamwork would tell you that trust is the foundation of all team successes, and they have a good reason for that. We don’t feel comfortable working for someone who doesn’t trust us to do the job.
In most organizations, the lack of trust is a collection of subtle hints that are hard to recognize. It is as subtle as the multiple levels of approval needed for a simple task, bosses managing and closely monitoring all the small details of the project to make sure it follows their way, or shutting out a team member’s idea during a meeting. A team that doesn’t establish a basic level of trust suffers.
“Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.” - HBR’s The Neuroscience of Trust.
This article is a dive into the profundity of trust in teams through understanding the causes of the absence of trust, ideas and action steps you can take to start building it back, and most importantly, a shift in mindset and view towards leadership you must embody if a trusting team is what you desire.
Why is there an absence of trust?
There are a few factors surrounding the lack of trust: Experience, Environment, and Mindset. There is no saying that a single factor kills trust more than others, but each of them contributes to the demise in its own way.
Experience - You may have been let down by people you placed deep trust in. So you become cautious about who you trust. Your experience dictates a trauma that you pass to other people.
Environment - Your bosses never really trusted you, so were your coordinates. That’s just how things have been for you all your life. How would you know anything different?
Mindset - If you let your team members handle almost everything in a project, what will that say about your capability? Will you cease to look like the ‘leader’ you’re expected to? Your insecurity leads you to impose self-importance and dominance on other people - Why? To prove you’re worthy.
Whichever scenario resonates better with you and your team, you should trust that it can change.
Trust doesn’t just happen overnight, and it often isn’t a straight line. In many cases, building trust is much more straightforward - reforming the team, hiring better, and getting rid of the bad apples. In some other cases, building trust is extreme perseverance; it requires you to reconstruct the whole belief system of people in the team to embed a different approach of thinking - one that welcomes more transparency and accountability. For these cases, change requires a top down approach, one that starts with leadership.
People follow what is preached by their leaders, so leaders should model the desired behaviors and lead by example. Below are some behaviors and actions to be taken if you want to build more trust in your team as a leader:
1). Be Authentic.
If you want your team to trust you, you first have to be a reliable person. Simple as that! Practice authentic and open communication where you speak the truth and follow through on what you say. Actions always speak louder than words. Trust is lost when leaders:
- Play a hide-and-seek game where they avoid speaking about hard things and beat around the bush when issues arise.
- Promise and never deliver. No actions follow what they say.
- Hide information and facts that shouldn’t be a secret at all.
- Don’t show up to responsibilities, they let other people take the blame for their actions.
Most of us think we know better as leaders and will avoid those behaviors, but oftentimes, those are underlying issues that lurk around only when a crisis happens. Being authentic is about facing it head-on, do what you say you’d do, and take responsibility for the outcome without hesitations, even if it makes you look bad. Leadership is not about you.
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.” - Former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree once said,
2). Adopt Long-term Thinking.
People trust leaders who are less egoistic and more long-term thinkers. They are those who empower other people and ensure their impact continues after they’re gone. Eventually, leaders will need to pass on their position to other people, and it’s important to make sure they prepare the organization for their absence.
“The traditional leadership narrative is all about you: your vision and strategy; your ability to make the tough calls and rally the troops; your talents, your charisma, your heroic moments of courage and instinct. But leadership really isn’t about you. It’s about empowering other people as a result of your presence, and about making sure that the impact of your leadership continues into your absence.” - HBR’s Start With Trust.
People trust leaders who care for them and do the right thing for the organization. That includes making long-term decisions that concern not just the stakeholders but the overall sustainability of the company itself for a long time to come. When leaders start to embrace long-term thinking, trust happens in small actions:
- Employees work harder to achieve the company’s goals, not only for the salary and benefits, but simply because they care and know the leader has their best interest at heart.
- Employees feel at ease leaving important projects at the hands of other coworkers because they trust that they would own the outcomes.
3). Hold Unbiased Opinions.
It's important that you maintain a balance of opinions. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t voice your opinion, it means you should always be fair and just when you do. You should get a full grasp of a situation before you react to it. A leader who appears to be taking sides is not to be trusted as their stand sways according to the external forces. Show that you’re fair by:
- Putting effort into understanding all sides of the story by holding regular one-on-ones.
- Approaching the silent people or those who may be struggling and ask for their opinions.
- Questioning everything with fresh perspectives and don’t be afraid to give feedback when situation calls for.
4). Develop Skill for Good Judgement.
Good judgement is a muscle; it can be built with time and experience. When your organization is filled with people with good judgements, you’re not afraid to be transparent. Help your team build skill for good judgement:
Give your team doable but challenging assignments. It encourages them to push beyond their capabilities and think critically. According to research, the act of inducing ‘challenge stress’, where managers assign difficult but achievable tasks, releases neuro-chemicals like oxytocin and adrenocorticotropin that help intensify focus and strengthen connections.
Embrace failings. When your team member makes a poor judgement call, don’t be dismissive, but be curious and understanding. But be sure to inform the mistakes and give feedback early on, it shows you care enough to want them to be better.
Common Sense. We have more common sense and gut instinct than we let on, so encourage your team members to use their common sense when it comes to dealing with a difficult situation. In Bloo, we encourage our team members to always ask the question “What would make sense to do?” whenever we’re making feature decisions or facing a dilemma.
Make Personal Development a Culture. People develop good judgments when they are aware of facts and insights around different topics. So, get your people to embrace personal growth through reading books, articles, news sources, learn from doing experiments, or take online classes on topics that interest them. The more they learn, the more they will feel like they don’t know, and this kind of humility serves greatly when making an important call.
Trust People to Make Decisions. This is your chance to show them you trust them. Give people a chance to practice what they learn by allowing them to make decisions and trust that they’ll learn from the mistakes.
5). Build a System for Transparency.
You’ve probably heard of this before, sometimes the best method in gaining trust is to take a leap of faith and do it. You’ll stumble upon a few errors but they serve as lessons for the next round to come. However, you can reduce the chance of errors through building a system for transparency to exist. This implies:
Always have one source for the truth. Whether it’s a documented record or a digital folder somewhere that contains everything that happened, you need to have one source you can go back to to trace all activities.
Beware of rewarding systems. They could backfire and create a culture of ruthless competitions instead of teamwork. It would result in team members playing politics games with one another all for the ‘rewards’.
Make work progress & future plans transparent. Adopt a habit of staying updated to everyone’s progress, and one way you can do that is to use one tool for everything. And let your team in on plans for the future and be open to answering questions about it.
Hire the right people. Building trust and establishing transparency in an organization requires a strategic change in hiring. This means communicating the core values up front, emphasizing on culture fit, and conducting test briefs and detailed screening prior to hiring. Once new hires are part of the team, there’s no excuse but to trust them.
They say trust is like a valuable piece of china, once it's broken, it'll never be the same again. A part of it is true, trust is hard to earn and it's not easily reversible. But if you set the right intentions and do it right, your team will start trusting again.
To sum up the points mentioned above:
- Be aware and reflective of the past experiences, surrounding environments, and limiting mindsets that hold you back from trusting others, thus creating trust in teams.
- Start from yourself - be authentic in everything you do, do what you say, and follow through on commitments.
- Adopt long-term thinking and focus on the impact you want to leave; Empower your team to approach work the same way.
- Be just and fair; Show that you are not biased by putting in the effort to understand different perspectives, hearing from the silent members, and not being afraid to say the hard things.
- Develop skill for good judgment & allow your team members to make decisions to strengthen their judgment muscle.
- The best way to establish transparency is to build a system around it. Start by having one tool for everything - one source for the truth.
Work Better, Together.
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