Trust may be the most essential element that determines the success of a team. A team may have highly competent members, but if it is plagued by distrust, it will under-perform a team of ordinary individuals. We see this all the time in sports, where a disunited team of skillful highly-paid players is beaten by a lesser known team of average but closely-knit players. As Patrick Lencioni once said:” Not strategy, not finance, not technology…it is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” The soul of teamwork is trust; teams running high on trust will exceed expectations.
This is why a considerable part of a team leader’s time should be dedicated to building and maintaining trust. Trust is a fragile; it is very hard to create but easy to damage. Also, it is easier to build trust afresh than it is to repair it when it has been damaged. The vast majority of work-related conflicts and problems can be viewed as trust issues. If leaders spent a quarter of the time they dedicated to solving these issues to building trust, their whole team would be freed to commit itself to real work rather than protecting personal interests.
Building a High-Trust Work Environment
A high-trust workplace is one where people feel safe enough to be open about challenges and problems, since they are convinced everyone is working for each other’s benefit. Without trust, a group is more similar to a crowd than it is to a team. The two elements of trust are reliability and ability. Ability refers to people’s knowledge, skills and qualifications. Reliability refers to their personal character. We will focus on the reliability aspect of trust. How can team leaders build trust in their team?
Trust Is Earned: You cannot demand trust like you can demand compliance.
Lead by Example: People watch you; your action is their permission to do the same.
Respect: Place value on people by respecting them, their time and their opinions.
Communicate Openly: When people see that there is no hidden agenda, they offer their trust.
Consistency in Rules: Trust is undermined when rules continuously change or are selectively applied.
Fairness: Do not just be fair, be seen to be fair. If there are lingering feelings of unfairness, address them quickly.
Accept Criticism: People need to be able to say what they think about your actions. Be open to feedback.
Concern: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (John C. Maxwell).
Courage: A leader who is not afraid to confront thorny issues will see team members become more open.
Protect Your People: This does not mean condoning wrong behavior. But it does mean taking the hit rather than sacrificing a team member to save yourself.
Foster Unity: Discourage subgroups, unless they are solely for the purpose of work.
Discuss Trust Issues: Openly and in private, try to understand the underlying cause of problems.
Engage In Trust-Building Activities & Exercises: Look for activities that build morale and help the group to bond.
Finally, people withdraw trust for a reason. By understanding why team members battle over rights and privileges, you can reverse the direction and start to create trust.
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