Developing Trust to Build a High-Performance Team

Like many leadership skills, having the ability to build trust begins with recognizing the importance of this activity and understanding the necessity to behave in a manner that will contribute to the development of that much desired trust and credibility.

Yes, some believe that having positional power automatically entitles them to this precious attitude, but I feel that this is actually compliance and not really trust. And to have a truly highly-functioning team, it's essential to build trust, not just have compliance.

So what are some strategies that can help us build trust?

Open Communication

It all starts with open communication. Share information about the decisions and the associated actions. Be clear about your intentions, about the goals.

That doesn't mean being careless and justifying everything by saying it’s “speaking the truth”. We can't just come in and say whatever and start blaming and finger-pointing and throwing people under the bus because “it's the truth and I'm communicating openly.”

Most situations require tact, diplomacy, and discretion. Continue to employ that. Building trust doesn't mean saying everything and anything that's going to hurt everybody's feelings, destroy their self-esteem, or create unnecessary tension and conflict between team members. We still need to be respectful of individuals.

At the same time, it's finding a way to be open, to communicate clearly while still keeping in mind people's feelings, keeping in mind people's right to privacy and dignity. It does require finesse in speaking a truth that is not destructive. It requires a certain skill for sure to be able to communicate openly and build that trust.

Also, I think that if you really show care, it's actually going to build that trust even more because then people won't be fearful that they're going to be next on your wonderful “truth list”. And that the next time you mention their name, it won't be with all of these things that they really wish you hadn't told the whole team.

While creating that idea of openness and building that trust by sharing with the team, be mindful of how you're sharing it and whether it's positive or not, and the impact that it has on the individuals.

It's about finding a way of explaining the “why”. And that's more what I focus on. If I have to share something in a way that's highly diplomatic because I believe that the unfiltered truth would negatively impact the team, that it would have a destructive impact, then I'm still being truthful and I simply focus on the why and the solutions.

And that allows the individuals involved the right to their dignity and privacy while still building trust with the team.

I certainly would not just come out and make something up because I'm concerned about how the team is going to react, but I do work on finding a way to say things that will lead to a productive relationship. If you want the team to trust you, they have to believe that you have their best interest in mind, and you have to trust that they are also capable of understanding.

Maybe you will reveal things a little bit more, show a little bit more of what's happening behind the scenes, because you want that two-way street to happen.

An argument that I've heard from some entrepreneurs is that “If I tell them more, they might question my decisions”. I say, welcome it. Because if they question a decision you made, maybe it's because they don't understand the full context. So maybe it requires a little bit more explanation. Which also provides an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings.

Or maybe it requires further investigation. Maybe there's something that wasn't considered in the decision that really should have. Maybe you were missing an element of information that they had that you didn't, and that just didn't surface. Therefore, I wouldn't worry too much about team members questioning my decisions. It's usually an opportunity actually, first of all to see whether you really had all the information and whether they had information that maybe you hadn't. So it's a great opportunity.

And because it's all part of open communication, it's also a great opportunity to practice active listening, because if you're listening to the team's concerns and ideas, then it also provides you with an opportunity to take their feedback into account.

Walk the talk

Another aspect of developing trust and building a high-functioning team, is to walk the talk.

That is non-negotiable.

A key component of building trust is backing up the words with actions.

If you say you're going to do something, do that thing. Of course there are times when you gain new information as you go along and that will change things.

I'm not saying that everything that you say will always happen, but generally speaking, do you follow through on your commitments? If you say you're going to do something, make sure you do it. It’s really important in building that trust with the team. It shows the team that you're reliable, that you're accountable, that they can count on you to be there. So it's really important for you to show up because if you are always promising things and then none of them happen, or a small percentage of them happen, that doesn't build trust. Then it becomes, “Okay, yeah, whatever.”

Again, it doesn't mean that everything is going to happen. Like I just mentioned, sometimes you had certain information and things turned out differently, or you had certain expectations and it didn't work out. In those instances, of course, then you dig into the why, try to figure out and fix it.

Also, sometimes it is just you dropping the ball. Even though you really meant to, you really wanted to stick to the commitment that you made, you dropped the ball. Maybe you had a lot of things going on. So admit your mistake, apologize and take responsibility.

It happens. Sometimes, I just miss something. Some circumstances make it so that there are just too many things or something happened and I completely missed something. My first reaction is, “I am sorry”. I will try to explain why. I don't rationalize why I. I don't excuse why. But I do kind of explain the context as to why, very briefly. I'm not trying to convince the person that I didn't do anything wrong because there was still that impact of the fact that I dropped the ball. There is that impact. We may have made them feel really badly or something. So, just take that moment, apologize, explain what happened and provide them with the answer.

Of course, it depends on the severity.

There may be some things that are so severe that it may take a while to repair that trust. But keep at it. It should come back if you genuinely feel badly for what happened and you want to repair that professional relationship. Trust is fragile and it requires a lot of care. It requires a lot of intention. And it's important that it's not done in a manipulative way, in the sense that when I want to build trust with team members, it's not with the idea that I'm going to build trust because then I will be able to do X. It's really because I genuinely care about them and I am in it with them. And I want everybody to feel that genuine group effort. That's why, in my opinion, trust is key. But it has to come from an authentic place. It can't come from this idea of: “Oh, I saw this episode and the person said I should build trust. So here I am building trust.” It really should be a mindset.

Trust is for all

Another important aspect to remember is that trust is for all. It's not just for the leaders. It's for the whole team. Because it's also important for team members to trust one another. It's important for them to feel that, should something happen, that their colleagues will be there to support them. That, if they need a hand, the colleagues will show up, and vice-versa.

Of course, the team member has to do that for others as well. But if there's this inability to build trust between team members, that needs to be investigated and rectified because it will prevent a group from becoming a high-performing team.

If there is trust within the team, then they are more likely to share information with each other. If there is a lack of trust, then they are more likely to be worried about being backstabbed. They're likely to be more worried about making mistakes because the other person will report them or something like that. So it's important to build trust.

And there's a difference between building trust and having, I'm going to say a “clique” where it is a small group that has agreed to not say anything about each other. That's not healthy either. It's really about that openness. And remember that this is a professional setting. It's not building trust like a best friend or a spouse or something like that. It's building trust in the professional sense.

But it does create a more positive work environment, and then the team is more likely to be happier to collaborate. That's another side benefit of building trust.

It takes time

An important thing to keep in mind about building this trust is that it takes time.

Building trust takes time.

It's an ongoing process that requires continuous effort and attention.

So don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate results. Don't be discouraged if there's a setback. Don't expect it to happen overnight. Do keep being consistent and keep acting intentionally and keep reminding yourself of the importance of this over time.

By consistently keeping your promises, following through on your commitments, acting with integrity, you can build trust and credibility with your team. This will help you lead more effectively, and it will contribute to creating a high-performing team.


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