How to improve trust among team members

You may be facing lack of trust among your team members and you have not noticed it yet. Actually, it is very difficult to notice it, since trust is often something unconscious for us.

In this post, I will highlight the importance of trust in a team and, then, list a few actions that you should take to improve trust among teammates.

Why you should care

You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough. — Frank Crane, American minister and author

Teams with trust deficiency tend to take longer to deliver their tasks. They will hesitate on asking for help, hold grudges, avoid spending time together and have other behaviors that contribute on slowing the team down.

As you can see in this pyramid from Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, without trust your team doesn’t have the foundation for being a high-performance team.

Pyramid - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

There are a few indicators of trust absence and I’ll try to explain them in more details, so you can identify the problem in your teams. Later I’ll talk about the actions that you can start taking in order to build trust.

Lack of Trust Indicators

The hints that I’m going to discuss in this post are not only related to lack of trust, but if you see one or more of them, you might want to start thinking if you have this problem or not.

Information Silos

People usually hide information from the ones they don’t trust. That is natural and many times you are unaware of doing so. But as a team member, you can probably see the effects of that trust deficiency.

The first thing you will notice is that some information will be siloed in a small group of people or just one person. It is common to have specialists in a team, but if you have someone that is the only specialist in a task that the team performs daily, then the person is probably not sharing that knowledge with others. That behavior can be due to fear of being replaced by someone with the same knowledge, being compared etc.

Dread meetings

If you feel people are never comfortable when they receive the announcement of a meeting, they might have trust issues. Since they are not fond of sharing information, meetings become useless and boring for them.

Cliques

Wikipedia defines clique as:

“… a formation of two or more individuals who share bonding characteristics that allow them to identify with one another to form a social network. Those within the group communicate and associate with each other more so than with those outside of the group.”

Cliques are a classic example of trust issues. If you have a team that is divided in different cliques, they will prefer to handle work themselves than share work with “outside” people.

Preference for individual work

The same way as cliques, you can spot lack of trust if people in your team prefer to work alone without asking or sharing any information. However, it is important to not confuse introspection with trust issues. Usually, introspective people tend to do things on their own, but when faced with difficulties they will probably share them to complete the task. On the other hand, a person with trust issues might just try to solve it by herself.

Workload disparity

This is common to see when there’s lack of trust. The workload given to some people is much higher than to other people. Moreover, usually not only the amount is different but also the importance of the tasks.

Actions

Ok, we know how to detect the problem, but how are we going to solve it? Well, as all management problems, there is no silver bullet to it. However, I’ll show some actions that you can apply on your team that are best practices and, depending on the roots of the problem, it might help you boost trust among teammates.

Start by… trusting

The first thing that you should do is trust. Well, thank you captain obvious. You might think that it sounds stupid or obvious, but what I mean here is that, not only you need to start trusting other people, but you need to also promote this behavior in order to disseminate it. Leading by example is the key here.

One way to improve this would be to explicitly demonstrate trust by saying phrases like: “I agree with you”, or “I know you can handle this”. It will make people see the change in your behavior and start imitating it, even if unaware of it.

According to Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries for Leaders, you can improve making these explicit changes by:

  • showing people that you understand them;
    • people may react in different ways to different information, show them that you know them and can handle that difference;
  • showing people that you intend to help them;
    • show that you are not talking to them in order to blame or something similar; you are talking to them to help them;
  • believing in people’s capacity and ability;
    • show people that you know they can do it, and if they ever failed, show you did not lose belief in their capacity. Show you understand that those things happen and you still count on them.

Encourage transparency

Sometimes we stop trusting each other because we know little or nothing about others. To solve that, we need to improve transparency in our work, making sure everyone knows what each one is doing. This can be achieved by using a Kanban Board, having weekly meetings where everyone says what they are doing or any other thing that explicitly shows that everyone is working together towards the same goal.

Make a connection

People enter the company with a predefined set of friends in their lives and they are not at the company to make friends… right? Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to act like strangers with each other.

At the beginning, people might avoid sharing their life details, and that is fine. But you can counteract this by letting them get to know you better, which might involve talking about random topics like where you came from, what sports do you follow or why you spent $300 on a collection of The Twilight Saga. The important thing here is not the content of the conversation, but the conversation itself.

Create a culture in which mistakes are allowed

If you are the kind of person that, when someone does something wrong, you yell at her/him you might want to stop that. A culture of retaliation and personal blaming is the opposite of what you need to build trust.

As W. Edwards Deming would say:

“Blame the process not the people”

That doesn’t help only to improve trust among peers, it also ensures that you are monitoring your process and that you give to it the importance it deserves.

Engage offshore members

When working in a geographically distributed team, trust is much harder to build. That happens because you may have never met the other person face to face, or you haven’t even heard the other person’s voice yet. How will you build trust in that way? Well, the same way technology allowed us to work from different places, it provided us with tons of new technologies to improve communication.

In this other blog post, we give a brief list of technologies that we use at Plataformatec to increase the quality of our communication: How to do remote meetings effectively.

An extra detail here is that sometimes people are in different time zones. Therefore, arrange everyone’s schedules, so important and decisive meetings are held at a time where everyone can be online. Moreover, they are in different countries, with different cultures. You need to be aware of the cultural differences in order to be respectful and build trust with each other.

Conclusion

We talked about changes regarding judgments, work environment, perception, encouragement, etc. However, there’s also an important point that I would like to reinforce as the giveaway from this post: improve communication.

It may be cliché to say it but, as you saw, and you will see in many problems that you’ll have throughout your career, the answer to many of them is to improve communication. Every now and then, it is important to check how the communication in your workplace is being held and if it can be improved somehow. Because, in the end, enhancing communication will always improve your process.

Bill Gates has a very good quote:

“I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”

Or, if you want something more… popular, Ashley Tisdale quote works as well:

“Communication is so key”

 


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