Building Trust in Teams

A team is a group of people - a group of relationships - and trust is the foundation of all meaningful relationships.

Yet we spend the majority of our time focussed on how humans are doing (the work) rather than how humans are being (the relationships). Trust is not only based on what you do, its also based on how you are. The workplace has its fair share of high performers who are toxic in working relationships, withering the branches of trust like a demonic black fog in a forest. Anyone who has worked in a professional setting has met these unfortunate souls. They’re everywhere. In the short term they’ll delight the leaders with their top university credentials or the brands they’ve worked for. They’ll turn in long hours and crawl to anyone with a higher rank BUT it won’t take long before complaints start to rise to the top about their rotten behaviour and either fantastic workers start to jump ship or someone with a modicum of sense manages these toxic characters out of the business. I’m ashamed to report that many leaders take for too long to let go of these people, making woeful excuses for their transgressions until the cracks in the culture become too much of a threat to ignore.  

Trust at Work

Trust is paramount to a successful team and the case is clear: no trust – no meaningful team. So, why is trust skimmed over and not taken seriously? Too be honest I’ve rarely met any leader who thinks that trust is not important BUT ‘the work’ often gets in the way and teams are too busy to focus on building trust. It’s seen as a nice to have – the fluffy stuff but believe me on this, everyday you neglect building trust, you’re inadvertently creating a weaker and more unstable team. Let me explain.

Think of developing trust in teams like building a house. I was walking the dog with a friend the other day and we passed a lovely Victorian house. As I looked at it, something struck me about trust. I asked my friend what the house was built from? Thinking I’d just had some mental breakdown, she replied sarcastically “are you alright?“ I reassured her and said I’m just trying something out. She played along and answered “it’s made out of bricks”.  My assumption was correct. “No, it’s not” I said. She looked at me like I’d really lost it. To her relief I continued “It’s made out of bricks AND MORTAR.”

Imagine building a house just out of bricks. Would you seriously want to live in it? It’s the mortar that glues the bricks together, a critical component of the building process. Certainly not a nice to have. It’s imperative to the stability of the house. Only a fool would build a house out of bricks with no mortar. Yet leaders are doing this everyday in the context of a team dynamic. It’s only when the team is super wobbly that leaders turn their focus to the lack of trust. And even at that stage leaders want a quick fix, some temporary scaffolding so they can wobble through another quarter.

Steven Covey said that ‘trust is the glue of life.’ Make sure that when you’re mixing your mortar,  it’s fit for purpose. Have you got the right materials for the job and you are consistently applying it to every brick? The Trust Triangle is the solution but here are some quick tips to help you to start to build trust in teams:

Break the Golden Rule

We were all brought up by our parents to treat others the way you want to be treated. WRONG! So wrong. If you’re an introvert, why would you want someone to treat you as an extrovert? It’s utter nonsense (sorry Mum and Dad). Please treat others the way THEY want to be treated. That means understanding them more, making deeper connections and discovering things like their communication preferences.

Set clear expectations WITH your team not at them

If team members have helped form the tactics for delivery, they’ll be more likely to own them. If you just impose stuff on them, humans almost inevitably push back. Landlords know this. Renters are way more likely to not care about their home compared to owners. It’s the same with expectations.

Understand to be Understood

In the book ‘Getting to Yes’ (a top negotiation book) the author writes something that has really stuck with me and I endeavour to apply everyday. He says ‘when others feel heard by you, they’re more likely to listen to you.’ The gateway to influencing others and making an impact is listening. Basically if you want to be heard, start with your mouth shut! If you’re listening with the intent to understand rather than reply, your impact will increase 10 fold. This little sentence from ‘Getting to Yes’ changed my entire approach. It really works!

Matthew Davies is the author of ‘The Trust Triangle: How to Manage Humans at Work.’

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