Trust is critical to all healthy relationships and, therefore, all healthy teams. When there is trust, individuals assume the best and take the behaviors and attitudes of others at face value. However, when trust is lacking, people often assume the worst in others, looking for hidden motives and intentions. High-trust environments fuel high performance while low-trust environments breed politics, cliques, and self-preservation.
Trust affects all the other skills that have been addressed in this series. Without trust, communication becomes strained and fraught with misunderstanding. Strained communication leads to inefficient problem solving. And, when trust is low, team members are often unwilling or unable to genuinely encourage or celebrate one another.
Given that trust is such a vital component, how do you build or restore it? Here are 5 tips to put you on the path toward developing a strong foundation of trust within your team.
- Conduct an honest assessment. Check in with your team and ask some hard questions. What is the level of trust between the members? What is the level of trust in the leader? What attitudes or behaviors are building or diminishing trust in the team? You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are. Keep in mind that this may be a difficult conversation, particularly if trust is low. Using an off-site venue and/or an outside facilitator can be a great way to create a safe environment for this discussion.
- Set clear expectations. If you have specific expectations of others on the team, tell them. Unmet expectations are a surefire way to chip away at trust. However, if others are unaware of your expectations, they are not likely to meet them. Set yourself and the team up for success by putting expectations on the table at the outset.
- It is about more than following through on commitments. I love the way Patrick Lencioni, an author and consultant who emphasizes the importance of trust within teams, differentiates between two types of trust—predictive and vulnerability-based. In his book The Advantage, Lencioni explains that predictive trust refers to our expectation that an individual will act a certain way based on their past behavior. Vulnerability-based trust, on the other hand, is that which occurs when individuals are open and transparent with one another, willing to admit their weaknesses and mistakes. It is this vulnerability-based trust that Lencioni claims forms the foundation of great teams.
- It takes time to build trust. You should not expect that a new team will immediately develop an environment of trust. Teambuilding organizations often feature trust-building exercises, but the reality is that developing trust is more of a process than an activity. We begin to trust others by observing their character and seeing them consistently fulfill their commitments. Both of these things take time. Be patient and don’t get discouraged when results take longer than you’d like.
- Be trustworthy. The most important thing you can do to build trust in your team is to be trustworthy. Be humble and authentic. Accept responsibility. Let those on your team know you are for them and then demonstrate it in your actions. Complete your action items on time. Look for ways to serve others sacrificially. When you model this behavior for others, they will want to respond in kind and barriers to trust will begin to fall.
Trust is important; really important. If your team is not strong, healthy, and fulfilling, a lack of trust could be a primary cause. This week, work to apply one or more of the tips mentioned above. I think you will find it is well worth the effort!