Trust in teams is crucial. It can have a significant impact on performance, retention and staff development and yet it’s an issue that often festers. Instead of talking it out, people are inclined to sweep it under the carpet.
As a result, my work often sees me being drawn into conversations about trust. Occasionally I hear “I trust Jo Bloggs to make the right decisions / deliver / involve me” or “I don’t trust Jo Bloggs”. But frequently I find people use indirect language to broach the issue of trust. They would rather stick to the social niceties by saying “we need to trust each other”, than the more direct “I don’t trust you because….”.
Unfortunately, while more polite, the indirect approach doesn’t actually solve the trust issue. It is only through further discussion that I get to the bottom of why the trust does not exist or has been lost.
Later in this post I give some pointers on how to build and nurture trust in teams but first let’s take a step back.
What does trust mean?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word trust originates from the Old Norse word “traust” meaning “strong”. As a foundation stone of human relationships this is particularly apt. One would imagine that, as a seafaring culture, the Vikings would have had particularly strong views when it came to trust in the crews of their longboats. After all, their survival in treacherous waters depended on it. No room to hide; honest hard work, loyalty and commitment were the order of the day.
Applying the analogy in a more modern context, consider the trust required in the teams currently taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race. Seven crews of nine, circumnavigating the globe for 9 months. The route includes the Southern Ocean where waves can be 30m high and winds can reach 110 km/h. In these conditions, in a competitive race, the teams have to trust that each individual has the capability, confidence and passion to do the right thing at the right time and to the highest standards. They share a common purpose and through rigorous, intensive training they have learnt to trust each other, through thick and thin.
Trust in the work place
In the work place teams often do not have the same clarity of purpose. In addition, because working relationships have not been stress-tested in the same way as they are in elite team sport, trust is often assumed and lack of trust frequently only becomes obvious in a crisis. It can be difficult to put your finger on trust and even harder to discuss it, until someone forces the issue by triggering mistrust. One team member may distrust another because they are perpetually late. Another may feel a colleague is not serious enough, or a bit sloppy in the way they present their work. However insignificant these issues may seem, they will eventually erode the entire team dynamic.
The very individualistic nature of trust makes it impossible to define how someone earns and/or maintains trust. For many it is an emotional reaction that drives their perceptions in a highly logical, structured world but each member of the team brings a different set of personal values with them to work every day. These guide their instinctive feelings about trust and will be based on experiences, values, expectations, beliefs, assumptions, capability, intelligence, etc.
6 ways to build and nurture trust in teams
Building trust in teams takes time. And it needs constant nurturing as new people join and others leave. Here are a few practical tips on how to build trust in your team:
Here are a few practical tips on how to build trust in your team:
- Lead by example: be as honest, open and transparent as is practical.
- Manage expectations and encourage your team to do so as well; over-promising often causes trust to break down.
- Encourage self-awareness in your team members: they need to understand that delivering what they promise is paramount.
- Create a common framework: make sure everyone in your team understands and buys into your shared goal.
- Agree a commitment to trust: explain to your team how important trust is. Make sure they understand that it works both ways – you need to trust them as individuals but you understand that they need to trust you too.
- Encourage openness: sensitive issues around trust can only be explored in the context of a supportive environment where concerns can be aired and discussed without threat of consequences
If you follow these principles you will be create an environment that actively encourages your team to have conversations about personal expectations, values and drivers, to guide the way they work together.
Every team hits stormy waters sometime, but by creating a framework of trust, you will be able to navigate them more efficiently and your team will grow more positively in the process.