“A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.” Simon Sinek, best-selling author behind Start With Why.
58 percent of employees do not trust their leadership. Yet, modern leadership is built on trust. Forbes defines modern leaders as those “skilled at the art and science of trust,” who build relationships and attract support. As a leader, trust is not always a birth-assigned trait, but something nurtured. Natural leaders who neglect to build trust often lead to less productive teams who fail to meet their goals.
So how exactly can you build trust and a powerhouse team?
Cultivate Your Connections
The most effective way to develop trust in your organization is by encouraging consistent communication and following through on what you say you’re going to do. Consider your personal relationships. Are you more likely to make plans with your friend who checks in on you regularly, or the one who is flaky most of the time you make plans?
Your work relationships are built the same way. When your team has trust, you are more likely to succeed. But, trust must be mutual and needs to be earned by both people in the relationship. Not only do you need to trust that your employees will be there for you, but they need security in the fact that you will be there for them.
When your people feel confident that they won’t be punished or embarrassed for owning a mistake, asking a question, or sharing a new idea, they are more likely to contribute to the team’s success.
10 Ways to Build Trust
Several thought leaders, including Steven Covey, have worked, researched and experimented to identify strategies to build stronger teams through trust. Here are 10 ways you can start building trust today:
First and foremost, you must extend trust, just like respect, to receive it. Although a risk, extending trust shows commitment to your team and proves that you believe in your team’s commitment to your organization.
Additionally, extending trust allows you to feel more secure in your team because it encourages your team to communicate, keep each other accountable, and strive to improve on their own.
Respect is earned, not as a result of your title or position, but of your actions. Kevin Daum asserts that earning respect starts with your team and then grows with the golden rule. You need to give your team the same respect you want to receive.
Narcissistic leaders, in particular, often fail to earn respect because they are all about themselves and often neglect their employee’s experiences, perspectives, and emotions. Although leaders are expected to be confident, you should not be arrogant and should sustain humility by assigning the proper credit to your team.
Companies have regulations in place to protect the quality of your product, to adhere legally, and to protect your company. They’re not always fun, but they are necessary and apply to everyone at a company, leadership included.
These policies might even apply more so to you because as a leader, your example sets the tone for your team’s culture. This is character, doing what you expect of others. And if you adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude instead, your team’s trust in you will quickly fade.
When setting your expectations, prioritize clarity. Clarity means explicitly defining the goal and how your team should reach it.
In other words, clarity outlines how you define success for your team.
When you set expectations, you create a system in which individuals can hold themselves accountable and decrease the need to redirect your people’s actions. The ambiguity that often misleads your people, requiring a redirection, often otherwise kills trust, engagement, and productivity.
David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge, asserts that “people trust the clear and mistrust the ambiguous.” Therefore, leaders must straight talk and tell it like it is. Straight talk is not long-winded emails, rambling voicemails, or vague instructions many employees are used to receiving. Straight talk is saying what you mean concisely and consistently.
Whether you are complimenting or providing feedback, your delivery must be direct while still being kind to show your employees that you care. Take these opportunities to be completely present when speaking with your team members. This means no distractions, including your own tasks, your phone, or your personal affairs. Distractions lead to miscommunication on both sides, and you cannot expect your team to communicate well if you aren’t.
Unless it’s regarding your employee’s compensation or information regulated by a non-disclosure agreement, leaders must encourage transparency amongst their team.
Stacey Hanke, author of Influence Redefined, notes, “employees recognize lies and withheld truths.” While it is inappropriate to disclose everything with your team, you should be honest and open about the struggles and pivots needed for your team to succeed. Doing so keeps employees engaged and productive.
However, transparency is often needed most when things go wrong. When you approach your team, avoid questioning their integrity or sounding accusatory. If you make your team feel criticized or attacked, you will disrupt your team’s chemistry and damage your foundation of trust.
A team takes responsibility for their actions when their leader demonstrates accountability. At a minimum, you must exhibit the level of accountability that you expect from your team. By acknowledging your own failures and successes, you increase your credibility while setting a precedent.
However, accountability is meaningless if it is inconsistent. As a leader, you must be both accountable and consistent in all things, small and large. People lose accountability and consequently, their people’s trust when they dodge responsibility or display inconsistencies in their goals and expectations.
Don’t dance around reality, especially when the news is unfavorable. Be direct with all news, discuss your options, take responsibility, and above all else avoid placing blame on individuals. Instead, reiterate your expectations to manifest them in all future work.
Competent leaders demonstrate how much they trust their team by discussing news, both good or bad, directly with their team. It will always be more difficult for your team to overcome a challenge they don’t know about.
Sometimes things go wrong, and that’s okay. But, as a leader, you are responsible for any mistakes you or your team makes. You need to own and address them as soon as you see them.
Sometimes referred to as integrity, leaders must walk their talk. Rather than placing blame, good leaders search for the cause of a problem, whether it be a person, equipment, vendor, or process, so their team can make the necessary corrective actions.
They then ask questions to discover the root cause, and for advice from their team members before implementing change. It is nearly impossible to build a relationship, or trust, with someone who believes that they hold all the answers.
You should always aim to improve your organization, your team, and yourself. Nothing remains static, meaning if it’s not growing, it’s declining. That’s why organizations that work to maintain the status quo are so often left behind.
One major step to ensure this doesn’t happen to your organization is including your team in the process of personal development, both for you and them. By hearing your team’s feedback, you empower them to reflect on where each member of the team can improve the most, and execute these developments among themselves.
Most employees want to perform well, to see their teams succeed, and their organizations thrive. The exceptions are those with leaders accepting “good enough” because, as Astor Teller, founder of SANDBOXtechnologies, says: “good enough” is neither good nor is it enough. Good enough suggests there is no reason to perform better or “go the extra mile.” Seth Godin in his book The Purple Cow, states: “Be remarkable or quit. Mediocrity sucks.” And accepting good enough is embracing mediocrity.
As a leader, when you create an environment built on trust, your people will want to be a part of it, they will work harder, and they will care more. You establish trust by forming a connection and actively nurturing each relationship you have with your team. And when every team member feels that you have their back, they will have yours, leading your team to more impactful successes.