How to gain your team’s trust at work (3 key points)
The devil is in the details, always – trust at work is no exception.
You don’t trust your company for its c-level, you trust it because of your leaders
You don’t leave a company, you leave a bad leader and a toxic environment
You don’t get motivated by company policies, you get motivated by a leader you trust and who is in the trench with you.
You can manage a team without any trust, no problem with that.
But if you want to lead, to motivate others, to drive performance and resilience, you can’t shy away from it.
Gaining trust at work is hard, it takes time and effort and there is no hiding. Yet it’s the main driver of high performing teams.
And I get it, you’ve already heard that having your team’s trust is important, it’s not that groundbreaking of a statement. But I’m fairly sure what I’m about to tell you will make you reconsider how important you think it is.
There is a study, by Paul Zak and his team that took about a decade to complete, and that went to insane lengths to find the numbers I’m about to give you – they call it the return on trust. Hopefully these numbers will shock you as much as they shocked me at first.
Say you just started leading a new team, you want to apply more creative leadership skills, you got promoted to heading the team you were a member of, or you had your team’s trust and somehow you lost it…
There are no tips and tricks to “hack” those situations, only a roadmap. What I mean is that if you genuinely want to gain your team’s trust you have no choice but working hard to earn it – and your best way to go about it is knowing where to put that hard work, so let’s get to it because there is no leadership without trust.
Studies (Amy Lyman 2003 and 2012) show that trust at work is built on three qualities:
credibility: how consistent your actions are with your words
respect: how much you care about other people’s development
fairness: how equitably you treat others.
Those three qualities are what you need to prove to your team that you possess, so in the rest of this article I’ll break down each one, give you a few applicable ideas on how to do that and provide you with a template you can use to see to what extent your team trusts you already..
Just one thing before we get started: remember that when it comes to trust it’s not just about what you do, it’s also about what others perceive.
May sound obvious, but if you’re doing everything by the book but people still don’t believe you are credible, respectful and fair, they will never trust you. So let their perspective be the guide for your actions.
Elements of trust at work
You are credible when your team believes that
you tell the truth
you are ethical in your business practice
your actions will be consistent with your words – for example you will follow up on a promise you make.
People feel respected when they believe that you
will support them in their professional growth
will consider their ideas when making decisions
care for them
People believe you are fair when titles and and personal relationships to you don’t matter when it comes to:
pay and benefits
career development opportunities
problem solving or conflict resolution
These points that make up credibility, respect and fairness are what your team will grade you on – consciously or subconsciously – and on that basis they will decide if and how much they trust you.
As you’ll read below, you should start your work by understanding how your team sees you, you can use this template to help you get started.
Strategies to gain more trust at work
It is up to you to prove those points with your behaviour, so here are three ideas on how to get started with this:
Make a list of these elements and give yourself a rating on each one. Any red flags? Think of situations when you didn’t live up to your team’s expectations on one of those points. Maybe you made a promise and couldn’t maintain it? Regardless of the cause, you may have lost credibility there.
If you can, ask your team for feedback. Use with them the same template you used to rate yourself, and compare your perspective with theirs. If you notice that your perspective and theirs are different on specific points, that’s what you need to work on. If you need inspiration I have prepared a basic template for you.
Don’t just look at your formal actions, like what you as the leader do in your weekly team meeting or during contract negotiations. Instead keep an eye also on informal communication. For example, how you interact if you bump into a colleague at the coffee machine in the office or at a bar in town on a sunday?
Sure, that may be outside of your professional setting but it still counts because:
if you only work on your behaviours in your formal role as a leader but don’t do anything to show it on a day to day basis, your team will notice, and will think you are not granting them any respect on a daily basis;
by the same token, if you only work your behaviours on the day to day but don’t change anything in how you act as a team leader, people will see that what you say and do are not coherent, and you will lose credibility
And you can’t afford to lose respect and credibility: without them there is no trust.
How to gain trust at work (in practice)
So these three qualities are the what you need to do. Let’s get into how you need to do it, because once you bring it all in the day-to-day you can rely on a simple set of actions – eight to be precise.
Eight behaviours that have been proven to get your team to trust you.
Recognize excellence – This means nothing else than publicly and fairly acknowledging that someone has done a great job. It’s inspirational and informative. Not only that, it directly builds the idea that you are a trustworthy leader and will give credit fairly when it’s due.
Set goals that are challenging, but still achievable. Especially when they require a team effort, this level of stress strengthens relationships and personal bonds. Check in regularly on workload and progress. If the challenge is too easy, people will get bored, if the challenge is too difficult instead, they won’t manage, and that won’t contribute to their self esteem
Work via milestones and goals:Trusting everyone self-organize their job the way they see fit encourages creative thinking, autonomy, self-esteem and competent risk-taking. In other words, check whether goals have been achieved or not but don’t obsess what process your team followed to get there.
Let people work on what they want – trust your team members to choose what projects they want to be involved in, what area they want to develop into, their focus and energy will be much higher
Share information: as the leader, you are your team’s main contact to the company as a whole. Sharing about the overall goals, strategies and tactics of the company will reduce levels of uncertainty of help portray you as open and transparent
Build relationships: there is this artificial separation between what is personal and what is professional at work… the truth is that when people (teams and leaders) build social ties at work, their performance improves. In practice this goes from after-work beers to team-building games, to healthy banter in the team – depending on where you stand with your team.
Facilitate whole-person growth: clearly and explicitly support personal and professional development for each person in your team, set clear growth goals and reviewing them on a regular basis – in other words, let your team know that their growth is also a priority for you.
Show vulnerability : don’t be afraid of admitting you don’t know something and of asking for help. This actually helps portray you as credible and approachable.
So… you know what qualities you need to acquire, you know what 8 actions or behaviours can help you build those qualities. The only think that’s missing is knowing how to start, and for that, download this template.
That’s a basic questionnaire, 17 questions: each one designed to help you understand how you score on the three qualities and how well you are already doing in terms of those eight behaviours.
Do it by yourself first, self-evaluate: that will be how you believe you are doing in those areas
Pass it around and have your team return their answers anonymously: that will be how they believe you are doing, and it’s important they answer with as much candor as they can
Compare the two – there’s a spreadsheet in the template I’ve already prepared for you: punch in the numbers and you’ll have a side by side overview of how you think you are doing and how your team thinks you are doing. that will give you a clear indication of:
How much trust you already have, and how much there is to improve.
What areas you need to work on.
What areas you are already good at.
What areas you and your team don’t see eye to eye. Perhaps you believe you’re always fair, but your team has a different opinion – and the opinion of your team is the one that matters. In that case, start working on it.
Repeat the process every 6 months and keep track of progress. If you do this and keep at it, you will gain your team’s trust, you will do so ethically (you can be open about this whole thing), and most importantly, you will find yourself as the leader of a powerhouse of a team: committed, energetic, healthy and productive. I can’t imagine a better environment to work in, and that’s all because of trust.