As a leader, one of your key responsibilities is to foster trust between the members of your team. Yet, this is a skill few of us are actually trained to perform.
The dynamics of any team are built on the relationships between its members, and those relationships (just like most others in life) are built on trust. Where trust exists, relationships and teams flourish. Priorities get accomplished, disagreements are dealt with directly and constructively, and each person feels valued and appreciated for his or her contribution.
When trust is damaged or missing, however, things begin to quickly rattle of track. Small disagreements become major distractions. Resentments smolder just below the surface of seemingly harmless conversations. Less and less gets done, and more and more effort is required just to keep everyone on the same page.
The good news is there are steps you can take to ensure healthy trust on your team. Here’s where to start:
Model Open and Honest Communication and Encourage the Same Among Your Team
Establishing trust begins simply – one conversation at a time. In her book, Fierce Conversations, author Susan Scott tells the story of a wife who seemingly always wanted to talk about the quality of her marriage, and a husband who couldn’t understand why their relationship was a constant discussion topic. After years, this man realized what many of us eventually accept as truth – the conversation is the relationship.
As a leader, it’s your obligation to communicate with the members of your team in a way that demonstrates you are worthy of their trust. You must follow through on commitments, or be prepared to explain why you didn’t. You must not shy away from the difficult things that need to be said. Perhaps less obviously, you must willing to be vulnerable and open. This means being honest when you don’t have a clear answer, admitting your mistakes to the team, and owning up to your own shortcomings.
You must also demonstrate that you have trust in your team, an idea that’s often overlooked. But, for team trust to really take hold, all members must trust one another. Moreover, it’s your job to be sure that you encourage other members on the team to communicate in ways that value one another’s dignity and establish the trust you want to build.
Learn to Really Listen
If communication is key to team trust, then it’s imperative that you become a great listener. Don’t believe me? Think back to a meeting where it was clear that the designated leader in the room was in love with the sound of his or her own voice. Or maybe recall a time when the leader was silent, but so distracted he or she might as well not have been present at all. How did you feel during these interactions? Like a valued member of a team? Or like you were wasting your time?
Real listening is a struggle for most of us. To be honest, listening is hard work. It requires that we put our own agenda on pause and focus on the person in front of us. More and more, this single-minded focus is a foreign concept to us. Add to that the fact that often the words coming at us make us feel defensive, frustrated, or otherwise triggered, and you have a recipe for less than stellar results.
If you find yourself struggling to really listen, ask yourself why. Are you being pulled away by other distractions? Are you feeling triggered by what’s being said? Whatever the answer, make a conscious decision to take a deep breath, and gently remind yourself your job in this moment is simply to listen, and bring your focus back. Doing so will free up the mental space you need to really hear what’s being said.
Invest in the Success of Each Team Member
People want to work for leaders who care about them and their professional development. To build a team that trusts you, you must find ways to demonstrate to each member that they are valuable to you and that you care about their future.
For busy leaders, slowing down to focus on this can feel challenging. To overcome this, build it into your routine. Establish a regular and frequent (weekly or biweekly) meeting with each person on your team where you discuss long-term projects, items that are important but perhaps not urgent, and their goals for development. Having this on your calendar will ensure that you give each team member undivided and focused attention, and the room to discuss where they see themselves going as well.
Address Issues Early
No matter how hard you work to build a harmonious environment, issues are bound to arise between team members from time to time. When they do, it’s your job as a leader to ensure that they are addressed early and in a constructive way. How this gets accomplished will be a matter of judgment. Sometimes, team members may be able to resolve the issue themselves with a little encouragement from you. Other times, you might be required to intervene and facilitate discussion.
Regardless of the method in which issues are addressed, it’s important to remember that the overarching goal is to ensure smooth team dynamics moving forward.
Leading other people is a challenging task, requiring a broad range of tools. By learning to build trust on your teams, however, you’ll have laid an important foundation for success.