Leadership is a deeply challenging activity. It’s so difficult to be a leader because there are so many matters that demand your time and your attention. It is easy to sink into a space where your team becomes a set of biological processors of instructions and tasks.

Five Best Practices for Building Trust

As a leader, you must bring your whole team along with you so that they are aligned and focused on the work of the organization. All of us need to be able to build greater levels of trust with our team. When a team has high levels of trust it can excel, make mistakes in its stride and deliver excellent work. To create a trusting environment, we need to have an authentic connection, we need to show people who we are as human beings with our frailties and with our strengths. We need to break down barriers between us so that we don’t hide them behind the masks and personas of our previous lives. And finally, as leaders, we need to create a physically and psychologically safe environment for people to do their work.

We have come to terms with working in a world where covid is an ever-present reality. 

Remote and hybrid work arrangements are here to stay, and more teams are encountering the downsides — the tendency toward silos, incomplete information-sharing, poor communication, submerged conflicts and more. Casual conversations are less frequent, and the context is often lost in the daily deluge of emails and texts.  All of this takes a toll on morale. It slows decision-making, impedes action and affects team performance.

The way we get beyond these challenges is by building trust.. Trust is the foundation and precondition for team success.

Here are five ways in which you can build trust with your team:

1. Provide opportunities to build relationships. 

Trust among team members is developed over time. One of your roles is to create opportunities for the team to meet face to face, when possible, help members build relationships and better understand the scope of their work, team composition, timelines, communications processes and decision-making structure. It helps not to begin a conversation by giving a team member a task. We often do this because that is what is top of mind for us. But your team members are likely to be in a different space. Spend the first few moments reconnecting with your colleague. Acknowledge that you know what they are facing and show respect and empathy for their contribution. Once you have established this common connection, you can proceed to going instructions or following up on performance. Shared human experiences forge personal relationships and this enhances trust.

A surefire way to build trust is to share your own personal life story. When colleagues know your past and how you overcame challenges to be in your current position, they are better able to understand your way of working, and your pet likes and dislikes and can work in unison with you. Being vulnerable is a great leadership strength.

2. Speak the truth. 

Let the sunlight into your actions and your conversations. Speak the truth. Be open and honest. Be clear and transparent. Be balanced by communicating the positive aspects as well as the downsides when making a proposal. Sometimes we shy away from hard conversations because we don’t want to lose face, or we don’t want to hurt a personal relationship. Avoid holding back information that may reflect negatively on you but that others would find useful when making decisions.

3. Acknowledge success

A trusting team is a successful team. A proven track record of success is one of the best indicators of credibility to other team members. Encourage your team members to share their wins through email, during meetings or on social media pages when appropriate. Take the time to give direct personal feedback to team members who have done well. Be specific about what they have contributed. Don’t wait until the end of the month team meeting, acknowledge achievements as soon as you can.  Assist team members who are still learning the ropes. Lift out their achievements and let them know that they have your wholehearted support.

4. Be transparent

Transparency is very close to honesty. The blame game is a symptom of the un-trusting team: team members point fingers at others for problems or failures and no one takes accountability. Be open and honest by inviting team members to regularly share their challenges as well as their successes, whether during meetings or by posting them in an internal forum and opening them up for discussion. When you see a blame game cycle about to happen, stamp it out immediately. Use techniques like the 5-Whys practice to understand the systemic causes of the problem. Take the decisions necessary to ensure that that kind of problem does not arise again.

5. Admit when you don’t know 

No matter how good you are, you can’t know it all, you can’t have an answer for everything.  A powerful trust builder is to enlist the support of team members who have the answers. Rather than making you appear weak, asking your team for help improves morale, elevates your status as a leader, and promotes trust. Your team will know that you rely on them.

Your personal achievement will only be as good as the collective efforts of the team that supports you. If your team looks good, you will look good. By committing to open, frequent and transparent communication, providing opportunities to build intimacy and personal knowledge, and displaying a willingness to talk about wins and mistakes, you can create a trusting environment and a successful team.

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