The Importance of Building Team Trust

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Building team trust is tantamount to success in any business. It acts as a cohesive force, crafting a culture of trust that helps build relationships, acts as the cornerstone of teamwork, and boosts morale and employee engagement.

Yet without high levels of trust, your team can falter. Personal relationships suffer, productivity drops, burnout heightens, and you’re left with a talented, albeit unmotivated and untrusting team — a shadow of the potential that they could be.

But how to build trust in any work environment and forge relationships vertically and laterally isn’t so cut and dried. It requires mutual respect, psychological safety, open communication, and plenty of hard work. That is to say — it’s certainly difficult but also attainable.

Find out how a lack of trust can damage your business and ways to start building trust the next time you walk into the office.

Building Team Trust: What Can Go Wrong

Team members arguing due to a lack of trust

Trust in teams is a valuable asset and the foundation of high-performing teams. Plus, as a manager, being trusted and having people you can trust takes your team to the next level.

But just how important is it?  A recent article explored some of the costs when a sense of trust doesn’t exist, and they’re significant.

If trust doesn’t exist between you and a team member, its absence doesn’t just create a void where everyone’s sad about the lack of trust on the team and moves on. Instead, rather than operating through trust, formal processes will start to creep in to govern your relationship.

For managers, this most often manifests itself in everyday check-ins with employees to make sure they’re doing their tasks and other forms of micromanagement. For team members, this, in turn, leads to the pressure to always look busy. At best, this monitoring is a vast waste of everyone’s time. At worst, it’s severely detrimental to mental health.

A Harvard Business Review reported on a survey which found:

“For those workers reporting low levels of monitoring (less than 2 on a 5-point scale), 7% were often or always anxious when doing their job. But for those reporting high levels of monitoring (more than 4 on a 5-point scale), 49% were often or always anxious when carrying out their job.”

Although trust might seem intangible, ask yourself one question: How much do you trust your team? If the answer isn’t as high as you’d like, you’re probably compensating with a range of behaviors that could harm your team’s performance and well-being.

So what’s the solution?

Shane Parrish, who wrote the original article, puts it simply:

“If you want people to trust you, the best place to start is by trusting them. That isn’t always easy to do, especially if you’ve paid the price for it in the past. But it’s the best place to start. Then, you need to combine it with repeat interactions, or the possibility thereof.”

We’d agree, but regular communication is also crucial in building team trust. Tobi Lutke, the CEO of Shopify, has this metaphor for building team trust, which he uses to build strong relationships with employees:

“I can have a conversation with someone saying, ‘Hey, you made a commitment to ship this thing, and you did. That's awesome. That's a super big charge on the trust battery, but you’re actually late for every meeting. Even though that's relatively minor — like it decreases 0.1% on your battery — you should fix that.”

Lutke’s not formally keeping track, but just letting people know that trust is important and when something has positively or negatively impacted that.

Kim Scott, author and management coach, described how after making several new hires, the first question one CEO asked her was, “How can I build a relationship with each of them quickly so that I can trust them and they can trust me?” We should all be asking similar questions on the importance of trust and how trusting relationships nurture a business.

7 Lessons on Building Team Trust

A group of team members holding each others wrists to symbolize trust

Every year, the PR firm Edelman releases its “Trust Barometer,” an extensive research report into the levels of trust in society. This report conveniently uncovers a complex picture that can be demystified by buying lots of their services.

Amidst all that, this year’s research included a study of 7,000 employees worldwide, their working lives, and their trust in their employers.

The study tells a story of employees who care more about an employer’s values and work/life balance than compensation and, having seen their existing firms fall short on issues like less burnout, less stress, and social impact, are looking to move on.

Here are seven highlights that might be relevant for your own team and company:

  1. Companies have failed to uphold their values: Only 48% of respondents felt that their organization acts on their values.
  2. Employers are failing on burnout: An astonishing 43% said their employer is not doing well in taking the issue of employee burnout seriously. A quarter of those who said that have quit or will quit in the next six months. As we’ve said before, there’s no I in burnout, but many companies still seem not to have learned that lesson.
  3. People are thinking of quitting: Around 20% of people said they either had or planned to quit their job either to retire or start a new opportunity.
  4. Employees aren’t leaving for better pay: Only 31% of those quitting said compensation or career advancement was a reason. In contrast, 59% said they were looking for a better fit with their values, and 50% for a better fit with their lifestyles. Food for thought for all those organizations currently increasing salaries to try and improve hiring and retention.
  5. Employees are acting on their beliefs: About 75% of respondents said they would take action to produce or motivate necessary changes within their organizations, with 31% saying a lack of action on a societal or political issue was the sole reason they had left a job.
  6. New hires have higher expectations: 76% of respondents said they had higher expectations for a prospective employer than they did three years ago.  This should pressure teams to review their hiring processes as competition for talent and solid contributors gets fiercer.
  7. The CEO plays a vital role in upholding values: The single highest factor in increasing employee trust was when the CEO’s actions embodied the organization's values. This was over and above actions taken by middle management, emphasizing the key role that CEOs play in forming culture within the company.

4 Proven Ways for Building Team Trust in You

A manager standing and smiling in front of her team

Building team trust is essential in effective teams, regardless of whether you have an in-office team or a remote team.

As one study put it:

“When trust is present, people step forward and do their best work, together, efficiently. They align around a common purpose, take risks, think out of the box, have each other’s backs, and communicate openly and honestly. When trust is absent, people jockey for position, hoard information, play it safe, and talk about —rather than to — one another.”

It’s also incredibly inefficient. So, trust is important and cool, but you probably know that already.  The harder part is increasing the level of trust in your team, and particularly your team’s trust in you as a manager.

It’s why we really like the framework put forward by Sandra J. Sucher and Shalene Gupta in their new book The Power of Trust.

They identify four things that matter for creating trust in a relationship. By assessing our own performance as managers against these points, we can identify areas to improve, or better demonstrate these qualities to our teams.

  1. Competence: Do we have the skills and ability to deliver what’s expected of us and excel in the role? If not, do we need to take some training to improve and evidence those skills?
  2. Motives: Our teams don’t just care about what we do, but the reasons why we do it — whether it’s sharing information, decision-making and problem-solving frameworks, or other initiatives. Do they understand and trust our motivations? Do they think we have their interests at heart?
  3. Fairness: If motives are the “why,” then fairness is the “how.” Do we demonstrably treat others fairly?
  4. Impact: Do our actions have an impact? Do we actually deliver for our teams, and also, when we don’t, do we take responsibility for that?

Building team trust is more than just leading team-building activities. It’s answering these questions to integrate a company culture of trust — whether in team meetings or daily operations. To that effect, you need to be true to yourself. Only then can you forge a trusting team culture and, ultimately, become a high-trust company — ideal for attracting and retaining the best team possible.

Methods for Building Team Trust

Understanding the costs of a lack of trust, learning the hard lessons on trust, and asking the right questions isn’t always a holistic approach to team trust. It’s merely a part of the equation.

If building team trust is high on your agenda — and it should be a priority — you must find other ways to move in the right direction. One of those is a team retreat.

Designed to build team trust through a variety of work and play activities, Unicorn Labs’ team retreats are just what you need to bring your team together. Whether you want a company kickoff meeting, an onsite seminar, a webinar, or a multi-day excursion, Unicorn Labs has a solution to the problem of building team trust.

Contact us today to see how we can solve the age-old question of building team trust and creating a team that works efficiently, cohesively, and happily.

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