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Trust Must Come First For Effective Teamwork
The most important foundational component for an effective team? When asked, most people will say: trust.
In fact, most people will say without trust, the team will move slower toward decisions, will be less productive, will be less engaged, and team retention will be lower. And research proves this anecdotal feedback to be true. To take it a step further, an environment of low trust is often attributed to, and correlated with, the leader of that team.
Leaders make a difference–for productivity, engagement, and results to occur, team leaders must take responsibility for creating and establishing a high level of trust among their team members….and between the team members and the leader.
Expecting trust to “work itself out” is just plain silly. Teams that have low trust rarely identify methods to repair broken trust on their own; their defense is often to avoid conversations about it at all and, in fact, just stick to “minding my own business”. Broken trust doesn’t repair in time and in today’s VUCA world, there IS no time to wait for such an occasion. Sending untrusting and battling people to HR is not the solution either, and every competent HR professional I know (and I know a lot) will send those team members right back to the manager to fix it. Simply put, there is one person who has the primary responsibility to create an environment of trust: the leader of the team.
Want to help your leaders understand, embrace, and reinforce an environment of trust within their team? Share this easy-to-follow model to guide them to the steps needed to understand, embrace, fix, and sustain a foundation of trust for their team:
Step one: Identify if there is an issue with trust.
You may have an intuitive sense that trust has been broken or never was. But don’t rely on that gut. Get the facts. Ask yourself some important questions and then ask your team members too, such as the following:
- Are all or some team members unusually quiet in meetings, unwilling to share what they’re working on, or refusing to voice opinions?
- When you ask questions in meetings, is it like pulling teeth to get information?
- Do you sense gossiping within your team?
- Are there small groups, or cliques of people, that hang out with together, to the exclusion of others?
- Are team members unwilling to share when they make a mistake or if they don’t know something?
Answering yes to any of these questions can point to an issue with trust on the team.
Step Two: Understand the source of the distrust.
Just because you’ve identified there may be a trust issue doesn’t mean you jump right in to solve it. Find out more and consider taking some of these actions to do so:
- Share your concerns with a few key people and ask them if they feel the same. Get more information to determine the source or sources of the distrust.
- Get opinions from team members, either individually or in a group, on how best to strengthen the team and (re)establish an environment of trust.
- Through your own observations and good judgment, gather your own opinions. Considering various causes can lead to several possible actions.
Step Three: Address the Distrust
Various options can be considered here to address the broken trust and to start on the pathway to a higher level of trust. Start with small steps to gain initial awareness, including some of these potential actions:
- Administer a team self-assessment that allows team members to anonymously provide input into the team’s effectiveness. One of the ones most frequently used is the Five Behaviors™ team assessment. This provides a profile of the team, its strengths and weaknesses, and quickly identifies the areas needed for greatest focus.
- With or without an assessment (with is MUCH better), have the team meet and talk through the signs and symptoms of trust issues. Spend quality time (and one hour isn’t going to be enough!) devoted to discussing the issues and creating actions to change them.
- Don’t have a “one and done” meeting and expect everything to be fixed. Work in follow-up sessions and reinforcement to the actions taken.
- If you have one (or perhaps two or more) “trust disrupters”, start there before meeting with an entire team. Talk through your expectations and get their point of view. Resolve what you can in those smaller meetings. Should you decide to have a follow-up with the entire team, discuss, have a discussion with the disrupter(s) around the importance of their support and the impact of their actions in the bigger meeting. They can often be the biggest catalyst to positive change in the team, if handled well.
Step Four: Manage and Lead to an environment of trust
A leader can never let her or his guard down when it comes to trust. Whether or not you started from a place of disrupted trust or you simply want to head off any trust issues at the pass, here are some actions any leader can take to create, establish, and sustain an environment of trust within their team:
- Establish the Value: Define for yourself what YOU mean by Trust. What does it look like? Why do you feel it is important? What would happen in its absence? What behaviors do you believe exemplify Trust? Communicate your beliefs around why you value trust.
- Live the Value: Always show up in a trusting and trustful way. Do what you say you will do. If you can’t, then say why. Be vulnerable and say when you’re wrong or you don’t know an answer. Be honest and have the courage to say the truth. Live with integrity. All this is easier said than done, especially if you’ve come from an environment where it was more important to “cover your tracks” or to “hide imperfections” or wrongdoing. Make incremental changes to start/continue on the path of trustworthiness. As a leader, your team members are looking at your every action. Demonstrate trust and live that value.
- Reinforce and Support the Value. When you see trusting actions from others, reward that action, even if it resulted in a less-than-optimal business outcome. Support those that do, or are trying to do, the right thing. Recognize and reward those that demonstrate and live the value themselves.
- Strengthen Relationships. One of the best ways to lead an environment of trust is to create strong relationships with your team members. No, not a “bestie” relationship. But a personal relationship where you know and learn more about each team member, their life, their interests, their values. Having a deeper relationship with others creates a stronger bond of trust that simply cannot be replaced any other way.
Once you’ve worked on creating a trusting environment for your team, remember the next step: Continue to work a trusting environment for your team.
And the next step? Continue to work on a trusting environment for your team. You get the idea.
Broken trust is hard to repair, so as a leader, never let it go. You’ll be creating a team with higher productivity, higher retention, greater engagement, and faster decision-making. Nothing creates more effective teams than a strong foundation of trust that only the team leader can create and sustain.
 How Lack Of Trust Is Demotivating Employees And Costing Business Dearly (And What To Do About It), Forbes, Jun 6, 2016