Trust is the foundation of a stable, sustainable team.  The benefits of trust can fill up a post of its own. Probably the most sought-after of these benefits is the ability to be more productive without constantly stressing and worrying whether the team is doing what you want them to do. But I probably don’t have to convince you that trust in a team is an asset. You already know that you need to create trust.  But how do you actually go about creating trust in a team?

In a previous post, I explored the relationship between trust and control.  This post aims to break down the essential elements of creating a trust to allow you to take the steps to strengthen trust practically.

1. Define the Desired Outcome

If Google and Facebook taught us one valuable lesson, it is the importance of being honest about your desired outcome.  The fastest way to break trust in a team completely is to say that you have one goal, while covertly pursuing a different, more important goal.

Google told everyone publicly that its goal is to make information available to everyone.  They didn’t, however, tell people that they are collecting data from all the free apps they give away and sell it to advertisers and companies towards a bigger goal of making money.  They collected and analyzed data without ever explicitly asking for user’s consent.  This greatly damaged the trust we once put blindly gave them.

Facebook, even more so than Google, collected and sold users’ data to the highest bidder in their ever-growing thirst for growth and profit.  All under the pretense of enabling connection and bringing people together.

The important lesson to take from these two examples is that in order to gain the trust of people you have to honestly define your intention.  This gives people the chance to opt in or opt out consciously.  When they choose to opt into the vision, they will naturally be more committed and supportive to helping you reach your goal.

2. Admit Failure

You can’t trust someone fully who isn’t willing to be vulnerable. To gain trust you have to be willing to admit when you made a wrong choice, did something harmful you might regret, or don’t know all the answers.

When you refuse to admit mistakes it creates an undercurrent of tension within the team. Although no one will say anything in front of you, they will probably say it behind your back.  They will also question any subsequent decisions you make.

When, however, you admit to a mistake and speak openly about it, it allows everyone to learn from the experience and determine what went wrong so that next time you can avoid the same mistake.  When people understand why something happened, they are more likely to trust future decisions.

If you struggle with too much pressure, try this in a safe space with a smaller group of colleagues to see if this is something you are willing to try.  Then, once you’ve experienced the relief of not having to carry all the responsibility yourself, roll it out to the rest of the team and organization at large.

3. Include Everyone

Building on the previous quality of vulnerability to build trust, it is not possible to create trust when you are making decisions that affect people without including them in the decision-making process.  This is probably also the most common reason for demotivated and disengaged teams.

Telling people about a change or decision is not inclusive. If the only idea that is important is yours, you are essentially excluding valuable contributions from others in a less-than-optimal result.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

When you include people in the decision-making process they will naturally trust you more.  Trust is broken when you make decisions in isolation that might negatively impact one part of the organization while benefiting another in a zero-sum game.  Sales are notoriously famous for taking on this approach in many organizations where they make promises to customers without taking into consideration the impact on the delivery teams in the organization.  This creates a divide between the two teams which in the long run negatively impacts both.

To read more about shared ownership, read Redefining Ownership In The Age Of Agile and Shared Ownership Lessons From Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom.

4. Resolve Conflict

Including everyone, however, naturally leads to conflict, especially at the start of building trust.  To build trust it is crucial to resolve these conflicts and come up with a third option that results in a win-win outcome for all involved.

Conflicts act like anchors holding a ship in place.  When you resolve the conflict it is like pulling up the anchor which allows you to sail friction-less towards your destination.

Although this might sound challenging, it is much easier than you might think, provided there is a shared goal that both parties agreed to, as outlined in step one.

Conflict arises when there are competing goals.  However, when there is a mutual goal, it means you might not be seeing the bigger picture.  Including different perspectives, especially conflicting perspectives, are probably the most valuable tool for a more productive road to success.

When you take a step back from your perspective and focus on the bigger vision more objectively, it allows space for resolution. The evaporating cloud process from the Theory of Constraints outlines a systematic approach to resolving conflict.  It starts by finding the mutual goal between the conflicting opinions and then identifying the conflict and how it relates to the goal. For an example of this process read here.

Once the conflict has been identified within the larger context, you can allow each conflicting side to present their case. Practicing the art of listening is an invaluable tool in this part of the process.  In most cases, the conflict is a result of a communication error.  I have found using visuals and examples greatly helps reduce misunderstandings and with that conflict.  It is also a much faster form of communication than relying only on words and discussions.

The goal is not to convince the other of one idea, but to find a third option that will help both reach their goals.

5. Take action

The final element of building trust might sound obvious but in many cases the most common reason for trust to be broken.  So often business leaders and managers will go through the process of collaboratively defining a vision, including the team, and even resolving the conflicts on a theoretical level.  Yet, in practice, they will do something else.  Or worse, they will continue doing what they used to do in the past invalidating all the previous steps in the process.  This can potentially harm trust even more than not including people to start with.

Trust is earned by doing, not talking.

To earn the trust in a team you have to provide constant evidence that you value the input and perspectives of others and that you care about their well-being as much as your own.  Only make promises when you intend to keep them and only include people if you intend to use their input.

And when you fail, which inevitably will happen when you learn a new habit, start again at step one and revisit your initial intent, admit failure, and try again.  There’s no shame in failing and each time you try again you strengthen your trust.

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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.