Instilling Trust within Your Team:  Ten Actions You as a Leader Can Take


One of my favorite TV shows of all time was The Office, which aired for nine seasons up until a few years ago. Not only was it hilarious, in my opinion, but for people like me who have spent their career observing and working with teams and organizations like Dunder Mifflin, it portrayed every kind of dysfunctionality imaginable—deception, disrespect, retaliation, backstabbing, humiliation, and, of course, mistrust—but all done in way that made us laugh! It made for funny TV, but it’s not so funny when deception, disrespect, retaliation, etc. take place on your team or in your organization.

In an earlier blog, I had you gauge your team on its level of trust—do you have trust on your team and what is the impact of a lack of trust? Now I want to turn your attention to what you as a leader can do to instill greater trust and ultimately create a culture of trust on your team and in your organization.

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of Speed of Trust, talks about different “waves” of trust with the first being “self-trust.” The second wave he calls “relationship trust” and it is here that team trust is built. In my work with teams over the past 30 years, trust has always been at or near the top of the list of team derailers for those teams that are struggling. However, even teams that are performing well will acknowledge that the level of trust is not where they would like it to be.

So, how about your team? For those of you who missed my earlier blog on gauging the level of trust on your team, take a minute or so to take a snapshot of your team. Rate your team on each of the five statements below from 5 to 1 (5 = Most of the time, 4 = Often, 3 = Sometimes, 2 = Seldom, and 1 = Never)

  1. There is a lot of “game playing” that goes on among team members.

  2. Members of this team feel like they are treated unfairly.

  3. Team members believe they are being micromanaged.

  4. There is inconsistency in the actions of the team leader and team members.

  5. There is a lack of transparency in how team members communicate with one another on this team.

So, how did you score your team? If you have any 4’s or 5’s (or even some 3’s), you may want to pay more attention to the implications of these trust issues on your team. They could be costing you and your team more than you realize in terms of productivity and effectiveness.

Below are ten actions you can begin to execute immediately that will create or rebuild trust on your team. At first glance, these suggestions may seem like no-brainers; however, I have found that just because something seems obvious doesn’t always mean it gets executed consistently or well.

Each and every day, hold yourself and your team accountable for the following:

  1. Treat others on your team with respect and fairness. Start by defining the specific behaviors that illustrate respect and fairness so everyone is on the same page.

  2. When things go wrong on your team, get to the root cause of the problem and eliminate blame and finger pointing. Assigning blame does little to solve or prevent the problem from occurring again and can negatively impact team trust.

  3. Every day demonstrate to your team members that you value them as people and that you value their contributions to the team. Through your leadership and active listening, your team should come to believe that you understand them and care about them as individuals.

  4. Honor and follow through on your commitments and promises by doing what you say you will do, thus developing a track record of credibility. Be consistent in your actions and ensure that there is consistency in your words and your actions. Expect the same from everyone on your team.

  5. Be transparent in all of your communication by being open and visible, and speaking the truth. Do not bring hidden agendas into meetings.

  6. Ensure that the team’s best interests take precedent over individuals’ best interests including your own. It is best to identify it early when individual interests supersede the team’s before it becomes problematic.

  7. Break down silos within your team by creating interdependency and collaboration among team members. Building a culture where team members rely on one another to accomplish the team goals builds trust.

  8. Be honest and upfront about your intentions that are driving your decisions. By doing so, your team doesn’t have to make assumptions and draw its own conclusions, which can often be incorrect.

  9. Empower and liberate your team. Allow your team to be more involved in making decisions, thus sending the message that you trust their judgment. Don’t hover over your team by constantly checking up on them.

  10. And, of course, Tell the Truth.

These suggestions, while seemingly simplistic, can go a long way to build trust on your team if they are consistently lived and executed. Another thing that you may want to consider is having these suggestions become part of your team’s Rules of Engagement, Team Agreements, Ground Rules, or whatever you may call them in your organization.

So, if you ever get frustrated with your team, go watch an old episode of The Office, and it will make you feel like your team is pretty darn normal! I’m afraid it is too late for the Dunder Mifflin team. Their dysfunctionality provided us with a lot of entertainment and laughs, but I’m pretty sure that we would not have watched the show if every week they had practiced the ten suggestions listed above.

My final thought is this. If you are not already practicing the suggestions I have provided, then start now. You may not want to try doing them all at once. Start slow if needed, but start now. Otherwise,

there is a possibility that your team could become fodder for a future sitcom!

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