Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
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How to build trust on your team

If you truly trust your teammates, you are comfortable exposing your true self to them. You can act without fear of judgment and you can focus keenly on your work.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni outlines the differences between teams characterized by low trust and those characterized by high trust:

Members of low-trust teams are inclined to:

  • conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another;
  • hesitate to ask for help;
  • hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility;
  • jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them;
  • fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences;
  • waste time and energy managing their behaviours for appearances sake;
  • hold grudges; and
  • dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time with colleagues.

Members of high-trust teams are inclined to:

  • admit weaknesses and mistakes;
  • ask for help;
  • accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility;
  • give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion;
  • take risks in offering feedback and assistance;
  • appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences;
  • focus time and energy on important issues, not politics;
  • offer and accept apologies without hesitation; and
  • look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group.

By comparing Lencioni’s high- and low-trust teams, I have no doubt which type of team I would rather lead.

Trust of this type is built through shared experiences over time. Experiences that help the members of the team see each other as human beings with life experiences and life stories. Experiences that build empathy and understanding. Experiences that teach each member of the team that they can trust the other members enough to expose their vulnerabilities.

Our role as the leader of the team is central in creating this trusting atmosphere.

We do it by:

  • creating situations where our team members have to get to know each other better through sharing and communication in work-related and personal settings;
  • modelling the behaviour we seek, including a willingness to be open and vulnerable with our team;
  • privately coaching individual team members about the importance of sharing within the team; and
  • dealing promptly with any misconduct or internal competition on the team that takes away from open sharing and discourse.

Building trust isn’t easy, and it can’t be done overnight. It takes an open mind from each member of the team and continuous effort from the leader.