We’ve all seen the research linking trust and performance. Teams who are secure and connected tend to outperform ones that aren’t. But building teams with a strong sense of trust and community isn’t a simple task, especially when most of the work has to happen remotely. The pandemic didn’t create the challenge of low trust on teams but working at a distance certainly isn’t helping matters either. Instead, the cracks that existed in the office have widened in a remote world and as a result, trust on your teams might be lower than it has been before. If you think your team is suffering from a lack of trust, then try out these 5 strategies to get them back on track.
Tactics to increase trust on teams
What can you do to build trust on your team, whether they’re in the office or remote?
Get a baseline for team trust: To tackle a decrease in trust between team members you first need a place to start. It’s a good idea to try and get some sort of baseline for where your team is right now and how they’re feeling. That way you can compare data later to see if your trust interventions have made a difference or if there’s more work to be done. This can happen as a conversation but if you suspect trust is low on your team, don’t expect a lot of candor when speaking to employees. A better method is to turn to employee surveys. Gain feedback from your team anonymously about the challenges facing them on an interpersonal level so you can be aware of what’s going on and any tension between teammates that might be leading to conflict. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you’ll be able to react more effectively.
Improve team communication: How your team talks can tell you a lot about their levels of trust. One way to gauge trust is to ask your team some basic questions and listen to how they respond. For example, when you ask them to do tasks, do your team members ever say no? When you ask for feedback, is your team comfortable giving you real insight into how you can improve or do they offer vague, positive buzzwords instead? Does your team bring you new ideas or do they rely on you to direct their work? Picking up these communication cues can help you judge whether there are trust issues present on your team. If there are, try changing up your communication style. Increase transparency so employees have a better sense of why they’re doing what they’re doing and build in more time for team collaboration. Stop asking closed-ended yes or no questions and make space for others to share their views. Teams who feel safe sharing honest opinions tend to trust each other more in all aspects of team life.
Create boundaries together: One way of building a culture of trust on a team is to set boundaries as a group. Employees feel more agency when they have a say in their team rules and how they’re supposed to come together. Yes, a leader could create all these rules themselves but they’ll be stronger if team members are consulted directly. What does setting boundaries mean? There are many possibilities, especially with remote life, but some ideas could be deciding together what hours emails will be checked, setting up rules about when video needs to be turned on in meetings, limiting meeting times or bringing more structure to collaboration periods, or even building rules about how employees need to treat each other and how to handle conflict when it arises. Teams that decide together what they want their own group to look like are more likely to take those rules seriously and uphold them.
Use assessments to support team dynamics: How often do you talk to your team about team dynamics? Everyone is different with different views on how work should be accomplished. Teams that don’t understand those individual differences are more prone to conflict and disconnection. One way to help teams improve their understanding of each other is through the use of assessments. Personality or self-development assessments can both be beneficial in a team setting as it provides a learning opportunity for both the individual and the group. Improving an employee’s own self-awareness has an impact on their awareness of others which can help to improve communication and employee engagement, lead to smoother decision making, and build a foundation of trust between teammates. Assessments can also provide tips and strategies for managers to better lead the different personalities that make up their team and improve overall team effectiveness.
Tackle leadership style: In a similar vein, how a manager leads will have a large impact on team trust. Team leaders will have their own work style and leadership approach but the trick is to match the approach to what motivates your team the most. An authoritarian leadership style, for example, might work in settings where team input isn’t required but if you want to improve collaboration, it isn’t going to work. Perhaps a democratic approach might work better. Learning more about how you lead and what impact that has on others can help leaders adjust their style. 360-degree feedback tools can be particularly useful for leadership development as it provides a way to cumulate honest feedback from those a leader works with to highlight what they do well and where they could improve. As leaders develop their skills, they’ll likely see the well-being of their team improve as well.
Teams that trust stay together longer
Building trust on effective teams isn’t going to happen overnight. Teams that are low on trust might take a while to warm back up but there are strategies you can use to help support, and accelerate, that process. When trust is low, teamwork decreases, miscommunication is more common, and cohesion declines. But when trust is high, team performance improves, teammates share information more freely, and open communication flourishes. So don’t pretend trust doesn’t matter for your team. Take some time to check-in with them through conversations or surveys to see how your team is doing and where they might be struggling. Then do something about it. Tackle team communication and build boundaries and rules together. Leverage assessments to improve team understanding and ensure your team dynamics remain healthy. And lastly, think about how you’re leading and whether improving your own skills might improve your team as well. Trust can be easily lost on a team and hard to regain so if you see it slipping, don’t wait to act. Give your team a reason to believe in each other again and help them see how important building a foundation of trust is for everyone involved.