By Valentina Kibedi
Why build trust?
As a leader, why should you care about trust on your team? Is it not enough to set clear goals and direction for the team?
Yes, that’s important. But trust is also essential.
Trust is correlated with team effectiveness. In fact, studies have found that trust is a strong predictor of a team’s ability to achieve its goals.
Teams need to trust in each other, and in their leaders — trust that they will do their jobs and do them well, that they will act in alignment with their words, and that they will have each other’s best interests at heart.
This is especially important on hybrid teams, where members may not be able to meet in person very often. Trust helps team members feel confident in each other and strengthens the team overall.
Trust is a leadership responsibility
Trust is the foundation for all relationships, and it starts with the leader. Leaders set the tone for the team, and they are the example that team members look to. Leaders who build trust create an environment of safety and respect, where team members feel comfortable taking risks, expressing themselves, sharing information and ideas, and being vulnerable. This leads to better communication, collaboration, and higher quality decision-making.
Trust in the hybrid context
We’ve heard from leaders that:
- It feels challenging to build trust in the same ways as usual with a hybrid team;
- For some teams, trust was broken through the ups and downs and challenges of the past few years.
Trust is fragile. It emerges from a shared identity and shared context and can quickly erode with distance, whether physical, social, or psychological.
When trust erodes, people withdraw. This leads to fragmentation and inefficiency. Work becomes more individual and less collaborative.
Many of us didn’t realize how much we relied upon proximity or visibility in our management styles. When physical proximity is removed, trust is at risk.
To overcome this to protect or rebuild trust, we need to think about new ways of aligning around shared purpose, creating connection, and creating an environment of equity and psychological safety for all team members.
Pillars of trust
There are three commonly cited pillars of trustworthiness within a work environment: ability, integrity, and benevolence.
- Relevant competencies and skills
- Following through on what you say you’re going to do, delivering on your promises
We’ve all worked with someone whose lack of ability eroded our trust. They may have been a terrific person overall, but when their failings affect group success, or if they don’t come through when we expect them to, over time our trust that they can be counted on for anything diminishes.
- Upholding norms, values, and ethics deemed important in the culture
- “Walking the talk”
People who violate an organization’s values and ethics are difficult to trust. In the absence of acknowledgment, accountability, and repair, this can lead to them not being right for the team anymore.
- This is about concern for the well-being of others
- Demonstrating respect, care, and compassion for others
Benevolent people are concerned for the well-being of others. They demonstrate respect, care, and compassion. If this quality is absent in a team member, it can be hard to trust that person, even if their abilities are strong. They may seem to act in their own best interests over that of the team or organization, possibly at the expense of others. They may cause harm by gossiping, bullying, or taking credit for work that isn’t theirs.
Practical ways to build and deepen trust
While there aren’t any ‘quick fixes’ to create genuine trust, there are principles you can follow, and tactics that you can try implementing to create momentum towards building trust.
Here are some practical tips for leaders who want to build trust on their hybrid teams:
Model transparency and honesty
What are you observing about trust on your team right now? Are you showing up consistently with transparency and honesty?
If there seems to be a lack of trust, is there an “elephant in the room” that needs to be acknowledged and addressed?
Leaders who model transparency — about their plans, expectations, feedback, and even their own shortcomings and mistakes — help to create a foundation of trust that team members can rely on.
Check in on your 1:1 practice
Are you having consistent 1:1s with all your reports whether they are in-office or remote workers? How’s that going? What’s the nature of the conversations? Do you need to shake up the format, or re-commit to the true intention of these meetings?
1:1s are arguably the most important mechanisms for a leader or manager to build trust and connection with each of their reports. Leaders need to be mindful of giving all their staff — whether they are in-person or virtual — equitable amounts of time, attention, and support.
Check your foundation of respect and safety
Is there a solid foundation of respect and safety for all team members in your organization? How do you know?
Talk to your team members, and find ways to hear from all the voices on your team, especially those who may not hold the same power and privilege as other voices. In addition to regular 1:1 and team meetings, this might include anonymous feedback channels or surveys.
Keep an eye out for ways that trust may have been broken – both at an individual or institutional level. If you find any, then you know where your work must begin: by addressing these situations. You may also look to your policies — does anything need to be added or revised to ensure respect and safety for all team members moving forward?
Make space for everyone’s voice
Do team members feel heard and seen? Do they feel like they can speak up without judgment or negative consequences?
Team members who feel like they can’t speak up are more likely to withhold information or even go ‘around’ a leader, both of which erode trust.
Remind yourself that it’s often not enough to just “make space” and assume everyone will feel comfortable speaking up. As leaders, we should be actively seeking out a wide range of perspectives.
Leaders who actively seek out diverse perspectives create an environment where team members feel like they can bring more of themselves to work, and that their unique perspectives will be valued. This in turn deepens trust.
Create opportunities for dialogue, and be open to hearing feedback – even when it’s difficult.
Design opportunities for connection
Leaders of hybrid teams need to be on the lookout for opportunities for team members to connect with each other, both online and offline. This can be done through team-building exercises, social events, and by intentionally making space for informal conversations that don’t necessarily revolve around work.
As we talked about in our article “Has Hybrid Work Killed Team Cohesion?“, think about how you might facilitate collective mechanisms that create social permission — and a bit of social pressure! — to connect with each other.
Uphold team values
Values are the ethical framework that we use to guide behaviours. There are two types of values: personal values (the things that are important to each of us as individuals) and team values (the things that are important to us as a team).
A strong team will have a clear set of values that everyone on the team understands and aligns with. These values should guide our behaviours and decision-making, both as individuals and as a team.
When team members know and buy into the team values, they are more likely to trust the team and its members.
Leaders should ask: are our team values clearly defined, and more importantly, are we living up to them consistently – individually and as a team? Do our words and actions match? How do I know?
At Laridae, we use an anonymous quarterly ‘pulse’ survey to assess our values alignment. We ask everyone on the team to answer questions about whether or not we as a team are living up to our collective values, and whether they feel they are personally living up to each value.
But it’s not enough to just ask the question. Leaders must do something about the results, or risk further eroding trust.
The most important part of our values check-in process has been the follow-up: we always present back the results to the entire team, look at the trends over time (e.g. Are we steady? Improving? Or are there areas/values where we are slipping?) and create time and space to discuss the results, any concerns, and commit to follow-up actions where needed.
Which of these tactics will you try with your team?
Download Laridae’s Pulse Values Survey
Are you interested to see the quarterly ‘pulse’ survey we use with our team? Fill in this survey to download a copy.