Low trust is often at the root of teamwork problems. For your team to grow and thrive, members need to trust each other. They also need to trust you, their leader.
Unfortunately many managers believe that you either have it or you don’t. There’s not much you can do to build trust. I disagree.
Trust is a result of concrete behaviors. To build it, there a specific actions the leader should take. Here are ten ideas to get you started. If you can think of others, add them to the comments.
It starts here. If you want people to trust you, then you need to trust them. Base that trust on the assumption that people are competent, dependable, and act in good faith. Will you get burned by this? Maybe. Still, give people the benefit of the doubt, and soon they will follow your lead.
Take a personal risk
One reason you want people to trust you and each other is so that they will take reasonable risks. You’re the leader. You go first. This might mean you reveal something personal about yourself, respectfully challenge a superior, or admit when you’ve screwed up.
I trust people who are dependable. When people do what they promised to do, regardless of how seemingly insignificant it was, notice and acknowledge it publicly. People are often more dependable than we think. It’s our job as leaders to change that perception by pointing out when people do follow through.
Demonstrate open communication
Teach people to say what needs saying in a respectful and direct manner. One reason people don’t trust each other is because they make incorrect assumptions. We need team members to make their assumptions visible so that they can separate what’s real from what is not.
Challenge the group
A little adversity helps build trust. In tough situations, people tend to pull together. Provide a challenge that people can rise to and meet. This gives them a shared experience of success. Trust will likely follow.
Focus on behaviors
Successful leaders point out problems that they notice. People will never trust each other if they believe they are going to be harshly judged or personally attacked. That’s why when you need to be critical, focus on the situation and not them.
The person I most trust is myself. When I’m in charge, I look out for my interests. Using this idea in a team setting means that you give other people a chance to be in control once in awhile.
Teach conflict management
A lack of trust is often the result of poorly managed conflicts. If you encourage and support people in working out conflicts among themselves, you will see trust increase over time.
When things get too heavy and serious, stress levels go up and trust tanks. You need to break the tension. Make it okay for people to laugh when things don’t go according to plan.
At the end of the day, you can follow all these strategies for building trust and still not see the impact you wanted. That’s because trust is earned over time. Give people a chance to see the difference, consider what it means, believe it, and eventually make the change towards more trust.
Image credit: schmollmolch