One of the easiest ways to predict how successful or not a given team will be is to first measure how much trust exists on the team as a whole. When members of the team trust each other, they’re more likely to succeed because they’re more likely to share information.
They’re more likely to share feedback.
They’re more likely to take risks.
They’re more likely to support each other.
They’re more likely to express crazy ideas that lead to the brilliant ideas they need.
They’re more likely to admit failures and get the help that they need.
And they’re more likely to grow together and reach new levels of performance.
But how do you build trust on a team? How do you get people to trust each other? And how do you get people to trust the team and you as a leader?
In this article, we’ll outline five ways to build trust on teams. Trust is not built overnight, but these five simple actions will start the process of trust-building on your team.
Build Real Bonds
The first way to build trust on teams is to build real bonds. Specifically, build bonds between teammates that form for reasons beyond shared work or collaborative roles. In other words, build friendships. Research suggests those who report having friends at work are more productive, more committed, and yes more trusting (and trustworthy). And while you can’t force two people on your team to be friends, you can create opportunities for your team to have socialization and nonwork conversations that will lead to the discovery of mutual interests. These “uncommon commonalities” make people more likely to become friends—and make it more likely they develop mutual trust.
The second way to build trust on teams is to encourage candor. Encourage the team to speak freely and even to disagree. While that might seem counterintuitive, respectful dissent and collaborative disagreement are signs of trust on a team. It’s inevitable that members of your team will disagree, if no one is speaking up that’s a sign that there is not yet enough trust built up. As a leader, you can fix this by encouraging dissent and disagreement with you, and then modelling what respectful behavior and civil disagreement look like. This not only demonstrates to the team how to behave when they disagree, it also demonstrates that they can trust that their ideas are heard.
The third way to build trust on teams is to spotlight wins. Whenever members of the team have small wins—work related or not—make sure you take the time to let the whole team know. This is good for the overall culture and camaraderie of the team, but it also tells the individual members that you care and that you notice what matters to them. In addition, it makes it more likely they’ll trust you and come to you with successes and failures—and come to the whole team with successes and failures—because they know that you care.
The fourth way to build trust on teams is to accept failures—and in some ways this is the opposite side of spotlighting wins. Failures happen. No one wins all of the time and no team is able to deliver on time and under budget every time. Mistakes get made. And situations outside of the team’s control happen. But how leaders and teams respond to those failures is what determines future success, and future trust. Leaders who seek to find blame, and teammates who offer quick excuses, undermine trust, and prevent the team from improving. But leaders who seek to find learning opportunities inside of failure make the team more trusting and, in the long run, much more successful.
The final way to build trust on teams is to model vulnerability. Sometimes, all it takes for a team to start trusting each other is for the team leader to stop pretending to be perfect. When leaders admit their mistakes and own up to their biases, they send a strong message to the rest of the team that they can be trusted. And often that vulnerability is met with vulnerability from others. It’s impossible to build trust on a team without creating the opportunity to be trusted—and that opportunity comes from vulnerability.
While these five methods are not an exhaustive list of the ways trust develops on teams, they all have something in common. Each of these methods is a leader-initiated action that kick starts a cycle of trust. Each method creates space for team members to act on trust and feel trusted. And we know from research that trust is not given, and trust is not earned, trust is reciprocated. It’s a virtuous cycle that starts with one person—usually the leader—demonstrating trust and modeling what trustworthiness looks like. Over time that trust compounds and creates an environment where everyone on the team can do their best work ever.
About the author
David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.