Building Trust in Teams: 8 Proven Strategies
Imagine a workplace where open communication flows like a river, conflicts are resolved with respect, and collaboration is the norm. This can be your reality when you prioritize building trust in teams. In this post, we unlock the key to building trust between your team members, empowering them to conquer challenges and achieve remarkable success.
- Set the Example to Build a Culture of Trust
- Maintain Trust by Establishing Clear Expectations
- Encourage Open Communication
- Create Opportunities for Collaboration and Cooperation
- Provide Autonomy and Empowerment
- Celebrate Successes and Acknowledge Contributions
- Address Conflicts and Issues Promptly
- Invest in Professional Development
Keep reading to learn how you can create a culture of trust between your team members.
1. Set the Example to Build a Culture of Trust
Let’s say you decided to hire a personal trainer. And then let’s imagine that, one day before a training session at the gym, you caught him scarfing down McDonalds cheeseburgers in his car. Would you still trust them?
One of the most effective ways business leaders can lead a team is through example. In other words, you need to practice what you preach. And if you don’t, you risk losing trust.
When you lead by example, you show your team how you want them to succeed. Establishing a set of organizational goals and values can help, but “telling” only goes so far. Embodying those values with your actions speaks much louder.
For example, if a leader frequently cuts corners in order to get a desired outcome, they shouldn’t be surprised to one day find that behavior reflected in their team. On the other hand, a leader who outlines the proper way to do things and then puts in the work to do it—even when it’s difficult—will prove that his methods are trustworthy.
Leaders should also be careful not to use their position for unfair advantages. Imagine a leader that stresses punctuality and attendance but then shows up late with no good reason. By not following his own standards, this leader will erode trust and credibility. Employees will begin to feel a lack of equality, which will lead to a lack of trust.
To really put some weight behind your example, consider what doing what high-trust organizations do: implementing these ideas into employee development plans. One way to look at this is by considering a brand new employee starting near the bottom of the organization. In order to earn a promotion, they should follow the example of their manager. Their manager will be following the example of their superior, too. By following the examples of those above them, every employee can be shown the clear path that will earn them higher position, better title, and increased pay.
2. Maintain Trust by Establishing Clear Expectations
“The most common reason that employees fail to meet performance expectations is that those expectations were never made clear in the first place.”
— Paul L. Marciano
Creating clear expectations is one of the foundations of building trust in the workplace. When you give your employees the blueprints for how to succeed, they’ll be able to create great work without being micromanaged. Fail to provide the expectations, however, and your team will wonder if you’re purposely setting them up to fail.
A big mistake is to assume that getting better results is “common sense” or a “no-brainer.” The truth is that everyone comes to conclusions differently. This is because your team members have unique skillsets and perspectives—qualities that make them valuable employees in the first place. When not managed properly, however, those unique perspectives can cause them to produce different outcomes.
For example, let’s imagine a scenario where a team didn’t receive clear expectations:
A digital marketing agency receives an order for a new web page, but they don’t get much information. Eager to start, the designer wants to use a brand new template to create a beautiful page. Meanwhile, the content writer thinks the page should include large sections of text to explain the client’s business. The sales expert thinks there should be several “Call now!” buttons on the page.
After combining all the ideas, the web page is created, but the client is unhappy with the results. The team is baffled. But after hearing the client’s complaints, they understand: The client only wanted a simple page to promote a limited-time offer that they could redeem in-store. Furthermore, the audience for the page was a segment of customers that was already familiar with the brand.
Everyone in the digital marketing agency was a capable member who did their best to make a great web page, but since they never received clear expectations, the project flopped.
If There’s No Trust, Employees Will Have No Other Choice
If leaders continually fail to communicate expectations, trust will begin to wane. Employees, fearing they aren’t being given all the details, will go around their manager’s back to get the information they need. At the end of the day, they’re working with the best intentions, but they just can’t trust those in charge anymore. On the other hand, if a leader can understand the importance of trust in setting expectations, they can guide the entire team toward making incredible results the first time.
3. Encourage Open Communication
Open communication is the cornerstone of high-trust workplaces, and employees know it. It’s been shown that 86% of employees blame poor communication for failures by their company.
In general, open communication leads to:
- Better feedback, which encourages positive growth
- Preventing easily-avoidable mistakes
- Better collaboration between team members
With all of those factors combined, it’s clear to see how open communication is essential to creating a culture of trust.
Anything less will contribute to the opposite:
- Employees want to perform to the best of their ability, so a lack of communication about their performance will make them feel they aren’t being supported
- If employees make mistakes that could have easily been prevented with proper communication, they’ll begin to second-guess themselves and their superiors
- If they can’t open up to their team members, they’re likely to form silos and isolate themselves
Does your company have communication problems? If so, don’t fret. Here are some ways you can reverse the damage:
- Help them feel “in the loop” by introducing a newsletter or regular updates to all employees
- Allow employees to submit ideas and suggestions anonymously and without fear of repercussion
- Create more opportunities for employees to talk freely and openly outside of the pressures of the workplace
Regardless of the exact method you decide to implement, the important thing is that you’re making steps to change the culture. A culture that encourages open communication can become contagious and create serious change throughout the organization. However, it will take patience and persistence.
4. Create Opportunities for Collaboration and Cooperation
In many ways, good collaboration and cooperation overlaps with the qualities of open communication that we just covered. However, open communication alone is not enough to foster the mutual trust required for collaboration.
There’s actually a bit of a paradox here:
The trust required for collaboration can only be earned from practicing collaboration!
In order to create a high-performing team, you’ll have to create opportunities for them to rely on each other. However, that doesn’t mean you have to put them on high-stakes projects together if they’re not ready for that.
One great way is through the use of team building exercises. A fun team building event can place your team members into a fun, laid-back environment. Then, they’re assigned a task that cannot be completed without each other’s help. In this way, they’ll be allowed to practice trusting each other. Best of all, the exercise will make them come to that conclusion themselves instead of being explicitly told to do so.
Along the way, a good instructor will provide learning lessons that teach your employees how to use this trust in the workplace.
Once you return to the workplace, you can try building trust by identifying employees’ unique skills and working styles. By grouping complementary personality types together, you can create situations for employees to build trust. Ultimately, getting compatible teams to work together can increase employee engagement and promote a positive work culture.
5. Provide Autonomy and Empowerment
Nowadays, employees all over the world are obsessed with the idea of flexibility. Many of them interpret this as remote work privileges, where others see it simply as being allowed to work from home a few days a week. Across the board, workers seem to be in agreement that they prefer a flexible work environment.
However, here’s an interesting take:
An article by Harvard Business Review points out that when employees say flexibility, what they likely mean is autonomy. They define this as “having the ability to be the primary decision-maker of where and when they do their work.”
Whether or not you agree with the decision to let employees work from home, it’s worth considering that autonomy is a strong factor in an employee’s satisfaction. In fact, research shows that increased employee autonomy leads to greater job satisfaction and loyalty overall.
Outside of the debate about remote work, “autonomy” directly correlates to how much trust you’re willing to give to your employees. Giving your employees more autonomy, in itself, is an incredible trust-builder.
Some ways to give provide more autonomy for your employees include:
- Delegating more tasks and projects to them
- Giving them the right resources to learn and discover their own solutions
- Flexibility to manage their own time
- Allowing them to choose the projects and roles they want
- Facilitating sessions for honest and open feedback
6. Celebrate Successes and Acknowledge Contributions:
I’m sure you’ve heard of the “participation trophy.” It comes from youth sports leagues. At the end of the season, children who performed the best are given trophies to celebrate their hard work. But when children who didn’t earn any special awards suffered from lowered self-esteem, coaches began giving everyone a trophy for not quitting. Hence, the participation trophy was created!
Over the years, the idea of the participation trophy has spread through pop culture and has been criticized as an unfair accolade that gives people a sense of entitlement. The idea is so pervasive now, many participants would prefer not to receive the obligatory trophy at all! They would rather earn awards through their own hard work.
In the same way, celebrating success at your company can be a sincere reward, or it can be seen as a participation trophy. A company that openly celebrates its employees’ best work can garner more trust from its employees. But if it comes off as a participation trophy, then it could erode trust and diminish the meaning of the celebration.
Is Celebrating Success Worth It?
First, let’s look at some reasons that celebrating success is a worthwhile effort for building trust:
- It shows employees that their good efforts are on the right track
- It sets the example for other team members to follow (reinforcing our earlier point about setting clear expectations)
- Hard-working employees will have more incentive to continue giving their best work
On the other hand, carelessly celebrating everything as a win can actually harm trust:
- Employees might see the award as “obligatory” and unfairly earned
- The award ceremony, therefore, would come off as meaningless and a waste of time
- Awards for hard-working employees will be perceived as insincere, and their efforts will lose impact
So the question remains: should employees be openly praised for their success when it runs the risk of creating distrust?
The answer is to celebrate success for the right reasons only. Some of the best reasons to openly celebrate and praise employees include when:
- They achieve a “first win,” such as in testing brand new responsibilities or challenges. A powerful team performance on a new project can also qualify
- They make a difference for someone else. A stunning customer testimonial is powerful here, but it can also include recognition from coworkers
- Their victory aligns with your company’s core values
- Their work is truly exceptional
7. Address Conflicts and Issues Promptly
Here’s a story about how failing to address conflicts led to a lack of trust:
Charlie used to work on a web design team. He had recently been promoted to role of “team leader,” but he was new to leadership. One of his subordinates, Andrew, would frequently turn in websites that had design issues. Due to tight deadlines and a fear of addressing conflict, Charlie would fix the website issues during quality check without telling Andrew.
One day, Andrew found out. He was offended that Charlie didn’t simply ask him to fix his mistakes. By doing the work for him, Charlie was robbing Andrew of the opportunity to improve. And even worse, it was making him lose trust in Charlie for pretending that everything was OK.
Eventually Charlie found out, but only through another coworker that Andrew had confided in. In fact, Andrew had expressed his concerns to some of the other web designers, too. So while Charlie believed he was making the best choice, the truth was that his actions were sewing the seeds of distrust all around him.
Moral of the Story? Don’t Avoid Conflict!
Addressing conflict is essential to building high-trust companies, even if it seems difficult. A surefire way lose workplace trust is by failing to promptly address conflict or other issues.
It hurts to tell someone that there’s an issue with their performance, but good employees are prepared to hear it. In actuality, 92% of employees in a survey responded that negative feedback (when appropriately delivered) is effective at improving their performance and improving job satisfaction.
In order to maintain the mutual respect between both leaders and their subordinates, they need to cultivate a trusting relationship. Here are some of the best ways to do that:
- Schedule regular 1:1 meetings where leaders can check in on their employees and employees can voice their concerns
- Establish a strong set of core values that leaders and employees can use to base their actions on
- Practice using constructive criticism based on evidence, rather than just expressing feelings of discontent
8. Invest in Professional Development
Here’s an interesting fact:
A survey of 4,594 Americans in 2018 found that 51 percent of YouTube users use it to learn new things.
Since 2018, the amount of content on the internet has grown exponentially. More and more, social media algorithms award content that is informative and well-produced. The result is a culture that loves to learn and is developing a growth mindset.
Likewise, people have been bringing that same attitude to the workplace. For example, 76% of millennials believe that opportunities for professional development are one of the most important aspects of company culture.
So in order to fight back against high turnover, the first step is to invest in their success.
Rather than the obligatory training videos, however, consider switching it up with some team-building activities. These activities often teach the “soft skills” that aren’t included in your standard company training programs, such as:
- Time management
- Dealing with conflict
- Presentation skills
- Opening communication with coworkers
Building trust within teams is not just a nice-to-have; it’s an essential element for fostering collaboration and achieving remarkable outcomes. By implementing the eight strategies we’ve explored in this post, you have the power to transform your team into an unstoppable force. Remember, trust-building is an ongoing process that requires commitment, communication, and a shared dedication to creating a culture of trust. So, go forth with confidence, apply these strategies, and watch as your team reaches new heights of success, fueled by the power of trust.