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Three Tips For Building Team Trust

Three Tips For Building Team Trust

Boss or not, you can play a crucial role in developing team trust.

Last week, you took our Team Trust Quiz, and maybe your score was less than perfect. Truth be known, every team has some room to grow in the Trust Department. A 2016 study by EY found that half of all global employees trust their boss or their team. The truth is that highly effective teams dedicate time to activities that foster trust. Further, highly effective professionals are always cultivating their ability to build team trust – regardless of whether they are leading the team or just one of the crew. We’ve cooked up a few tips that are surefire methods of developing trust on almost any team, and from any position.

Of course, the most powerful trust-building exercise is the tried-and-true trust fall… but your company added it to the Prohibited Activities section of your Personnel Manual back in the ’80s, so let’s consider more reliable methods.

Know the Rules of the Road
Imagine if an extraterrestrial arrived to Earth and wanted to drive a car. Driving isn’t that complicated, and most other drivers adhere to the rules. If E.T. mimics the behavior of others and obeys traffic signs, he might avoid getting into an accident. But if he had taken the time to learn the rules of the road, he would have discovered a vital array of intangibles that keep us all safe: defensive driving, yielding to others, and not giving in to the desire to mow down people on e-scooters.

Low trust teams are like a group of extraterrestrials in cars. They might be obeying the 55 mph speed limit – but they’re in the left lane of the highway. Teams that enjoy high trust take time to understand the team’s Rules of the Road – especially the unspoken ones. What expectations do team members have of each other? What are the deliverables and what happens when they aren’t met? How much authority does each team member have to work autonomously, and when do they need to come back to the team for approval? Every single team member brings to the job a suitcase full of answers to these key questions that they collected from previous jobs. They may or may not be the right answers for the current team’s activities. If you haven’t had this conversation with your team yet, regular fender benders are probably slowing your team down. Add ‘Know the Rules’ to your next meeting agenda, start asking key framework questions, and the number of moving violations is bound to decrease.

Nice to Meet You. Nicer to Get to Know You.
Effective teamwork is akin to finely-tuned machinery, and familiarity comprises the tiny gears that make it work at optimal levels. If it feels like your team isn’t naturally becoming familiar with each other over the course of a project, make it a project goal. Meet team members for breakfast or lunch, and deliberately get to know them. Do you know the names of your teammates’ spouses or significant others? You may consider personal details like these to be unimportant… but ignore them at your peril! Failing to make a personal connection over time conveys a clear subtext to your teammate: you aren’t important to me. In today’s accelerating business environment, our frontal brains sometimes talk us into thinking we move at superhuman speeds – but we’re all still human beings, with a top speed of ‘human scale’. The part of your brain that develops trust doesn’t care about 5G technology. Trust takes time, which means effective team members make time to create human scale connections.

Bring Perspective In from the Outside
The ability to trust others is not an innate skill – it’s a learned behavior. Having a mentor allows us to safely practice developing deep trust in others, which in turn allows us to be better a teammate. You can review team events and conversations with your mentor that you feel have eroded trust, and explore what could have been done differently. A loss of perspective is a common symptom in low-trust teams: offhand comments become sleights; lunch with a particular coworker is construed as a cabal. Mentors offer an ‘arm’s length’ perspective that can help you develop insight on what’s really going on. You might even be contributing to the lack of trust and not even know it! We’ve all got sizable blind spots in our worldview, and an effective mentor will gently and constructively bring those blind spots into focus for their mentee. If your company offers a mentoring program, avail yourself of it, and bask in the immense value of an external point of view.

Forbes recently identified the lack of interpersonal skills, such as collaboration and teamwork, as one of largest fatal flaws that kill a leader’s effectiveness. If you’re currently a team leader, the degree of trust generated by your team should be a primary measure of your success as their chief. If your leader isn’t quite measuring up, these tips should empower you to start ‘leading up’ so that you can model trust building for those around you – and for your team lead. And when it’s your time to carry the flag, your reputation as an effective leader will arrive… long before you do.

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Mark Brodbeck, MSW
mark.brodbeck@ementorconnect.com

Director of Marketing at eMentorConnect. Passionate about people intent on elevating others, and other examples of enlightened self-interest. Frank Sinatra said it best: 'It's one world, pal. We're all neighbors.'