How to Build Trust On Your Team
One of the most common reasons leaders ask me for help is when their team is suffering from a lack of trust. This shows up in a variety of ways: team members don't feel safe being open with one another about their needs or vulnerabilities, they don't tap into one another's competencies, they don't rely on one another fully, and they dance around the "elephant in the room". They are so focused on avoiding difficulty and playing it safe that they don't achieve their combined potential. This can become a vicious cycle.
Trust-building is a crucial phase in team development. It doesn't just happen; it requires your intention and attention. Whenever a new team comes together, or when a new member joins a team, or when a leader inherits a team, we ask ourselves questions like: Who are these people? What's their agenda? What are their competencies? What do they expect of me? Can I trust them?
People say it takes time to build trust and a millisecond to lose it. We all know the feeling we get when we're working with people we trust. There is a sense of ease and playfulness. We bring up issues and resolve them together. We interact in ways that give us a sense of belonging and common purpose. We shine, both individually and collectively.
So, given how important trust is, how do you go about building trust on a team? First, it's important to know what contributes to trust. Trust consists of three key ingredients; it's important for all three to be present.
2) Integrity: Does the person follow through on commitments? Can I rely on them? Will they speak highly of the team in front of others? When they have an issue, do they bring it up quickly to resolve it openly, or do they stew in resentment, anger, fear, and their own story of what's going on without checking other perspectives?
Have everyone on the team complete a personality inventory like the Enneagram, DISC, or something similar. After a brief review of the tool's meaning, have each team member use their inventory to talk about their communication preferences, how they like to give and receive feedback, how they react under stress, and what they need from others to make their best contribution.
Have team members talk about how they want to work together, and align on a list. Keep this list up when you have meetings, and check in occasionally to ask one another how you’re doing with your agreements. Some examples:
- Be present
- No side conversations
- State your truth with respect
- Be curious instead of critical
- One speaker at a time (Note: I often use a "talking stick" for important conversations, where the person holding the stick holds the floor - no one can interrupt them as long as they're holding the stick. Be creative - I've used "talking toy dinosaurs" when in a pinch!)
- Give each person two small pieces of paper.
- Ask each person to write down a personal strength on each piece of paper, fold it in half, and put it in a bowl.
- Ask for a volunteer to pick one piece of paper, read the strength and give a reason why that strength is valuable to the team.
- Continue around the room until all have been read or time runs out.