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Strengthening Trust in Your Team

Avoiding the ‘difficult stuff’ doesn’t improve trust in teams.  It is more likely to erode it.  In essence, strengthening trust starts with ‘doing better dialogue’.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve got ‘under the skin’ of trust and trustworthiness and started to take a look at ‘trust on the team table’. 

In all the years I’ve worked with teams as a leadership team coach I can state categorically that the three things that will help to strengthen trust in your team can, broadly speaking, be boiled down to three things (and, as a given, you have to have the ‘right people on the bus’ in the first place – if you don’t, that’s a completely different conversation!)

  • Open, inclusive and honest conversations about the things that really matter with equal ‘air time’ and high quality listening;
  • Knowing your colleagues as human beings not just ‘job titles’;
  • Strong team norms - ‘Norms that build trust, group identity, and group efficacy are the key to making teams click’. Say Professor Vanessa Druskat and Dr Steven B Wolff in their HBR article Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups.

In essence, strengthening trust starts with ‘doing better dialogue’.

And, with the best will in the world, this is where so many teams fall down.

  • They know that something needs to change but they don’t know where to start;
  • They are fearful that they may open a ‘can of worms’ by getting the topic of trust onto the table;
  • It’s pretty hard to say ‘I don’t trust you’ to a colleague for a variety of reasons (and to say it to your own leader could be career limiting at best). So we don’t ‘go there.’
  • It’s easier to keep doing ‘stuff’ and focusing on deadlines and activity rather than ‘that soft touchy, feely stuff.’  (I remember one team who insisted initially on doing ‘something practical’ – meaning ‘chalk and talk’  as a way of avoiding saying what really needed to be said; another CEO who insisted that ‘we must all remain positive’ as a way of avoiding strong emotions and frank conversations in the team). 

The solution?

Firstly, know this: Avoiding the ‘difficult stuff’ doesn’t improve trust in teams.  It is more likely to erode it.

Both the teams I mentioned above were able to trust me enough to work with them on the ‘things that really matter’.  But it was important that we worked together on this one step at a time.  I liken it to starting in the shallow end rather than diving in and getting out of your depth – then drowning! 

So here’s how to get the topic of trust onto the table with your team.  A first step to starting a dialogue.

Firstly, introduce the topic of Trust and the links between team resilience and trust using any of the information I’ve shared with you over the last three weeks – (look at www.lynnscottcoaching.co.uk/blog for the last few articles on this topic) or anything that might be happening in your organisation or indeed in the wider world that links to the topic of trust or trustworthiness.

Secondly, agree some ground rules/terms of engagement for the exercise if you like before you do the following:

Ask each team member to write down their answers to the following questions (or your own version of these questions):

  • What does the word ‘trust’ mean to you?
  • The fastest way to build trust with me is to…..
  • I lose trust in others when……

Then ask everyone to share their answers to each question (you can get people to do this in pairs first, if that feels easier).

Summarise the ‘common themes’ or ‘interesting differences’.

Ask what they have learned about each other and trust.

And that is your first step.  You’ve got the topic ‘on the table’ without making it ‘personal’.

Congratulations - You’ve started a dialogue about a topic that really matters.

Now…..If the above exercise feels way too risky for your team ….... then you have work to do.

If you’re thinking ‘they won’t tell the truth if we do that’… you definitely have work to do!

Lynn Scott

This Page was last updated on: 13 May 2016

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