How to gain your team’s trust at work (3 key points)

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.

Say you just started leading a new team, or 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

Credibility

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.

Respect

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 

Fairness

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
    1. 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;
    2. 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.

So take a look at yourself and at how credible, respectful and fair you believe you are, and compare it with what your team thinks. Whatever the feedback, you will have a road to follow in front of you, and opportunities to gain trust ahead.

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