Trust. The elusive relational equity everyone longs for but struggles to know how to build. We take it for granted when we have it, and we are often surprised once we realize we’ve lost it.
The foundational element for every team is trust. Yet time after time when I’m working with leaders on their culture, one of the first issues they cite is lack of trust. They are quick to request a trust-building workshop or a staff talk on trust.
The problem with trust is that it isn't a one time initiative, but rather the outcome of ongoing behavior. The opportunity for every leader is that there are simple and consistent things you can do to build trust, and some of the most trust-building activities are things you can control.
At the heart of trust is the ability to depend on the other person. As a result, we quickly assume our character and integrity should be enough to establish trust. This is certainly a baseline and, without consistent character and a moral compass, trust will not exist. But frankly, in the organizations I serve, this is rarely the issue. Serving primarily faith-based or values-based organizations, character and integrity are typically pre-requisites for the role.
With character and integrity assumed, we then jump to relational connection. To build trust we must have a relationship with each other. Again, this is an important part of trust-building but what I often see are leaders focusing on staff get-togethers and fun events, while undermining their trust-building efforts in other ways.
5 Subtle Ways You’re Eroding Trust With Your Team
In organizational systems, there are behaviors that are critical to defining how you work together to achieve the mission. If these behaviors are inconsistent, non-existent, or erratic you will erode trust. While character and relational chemistry are helpful to building trust, your leadership behavior does far more to build or erode trust.
How effectively are you delegating to your team? Delegation is a function of empowerment and team members want to be empowered to fulfill the work they have signed up for. Delegation tends to have its extremes. We are either highly directive, which presents like micro-management, or we completely abdicate responsibility with no coaching.
Effective delegation lands somewhere in between, where you are clear with expectations, define the key elements of the responsibility you’re delegating, and provide regular coaching for success.
Leaders who delegate well build trust.
How well do you hold team members accountable for their responsibilities? When team members know what is expected of them and you consistently have conversations about their responsibilities, you build trust. When team members know what to expect, they can confidently engage in their work. Much like delegation, we tend to operate in extremes on this one as well. We either avoid having conversations to hold people accountable or, under stress, we intensely start checking in on things we feel uncertain about.
When you set up consistent processes for holding your team accountable, you build trust because you have created a predictable culture that helps team members know how to succeed. Accountability is fostered through having clear goals for each team member, having dashboards that show progress on those goals that are reviewed regularly, and having 1:1 meetings weekly where progress is discussed.
Leaders who create accountable environments build trust.
Are you equipping your team members with the right information at the right time? Leaders often suffer from what one leader described as “in the know amnesia.” When you are in a senior leadership seat, you are privy to information and assume others are in the know as well. Being intentional and thoughtful to adequately inform your team is a critical trust-builder in organizational life.
Good communication requires good systems. What do you need to communicate weekly in your all-staff meeting that is critical to every team member? What needs to be cascaded from your leadership team meetings, and do you have a process for clarifying who will communicate what and when? These simple practices of proactively thinking about what needs to be communicated to whom are essential for communication to flow well, and for team members to feel appropriately informed.
Leaders who communicate well build trust.
How do you make decisions, and does your team understand your process? When leaders are hasty, erratic, or indecisive in their decision-making it creates doubt, fear, and uncertainty, which erodes trust in a culture. The larger your team and the more complex your organization becomes, the more important it is that leaders don’t make “lone ranger” decisions.
When your team understands there is a process to how decisions are made in your organization, they can be much more confident in the quality of those decisions and more likely to trust those decisions.
Leaders who make consistent, thoughtful decisions build trust.
Do you know what it’s like to be on the other side of you? Leaders are often derailed by their lack of self-awareness. It’s human nature to extend grace to ourselves because we understand our intentions and expect others to as well. That perspective is unfair and irresponsible. As the leader you need to have the self-awareness to understand how you are perceived by your team. What habits drive your team crazy? What behaviors do you default to under pressure?
If you lack self-awareness your team will struggle to trust your judgment. They don’t need you to be perfect, but they need to see you humbly seek feedback and acknowledge the areas where you struggle.
Leaders who are honest about their shortcomings and demonstrate self-awareness, build trust.
Which of these five behaviors is the greatest struggle for you? I encourage you to pick one to focus on first. Seek out a few team members for feedback on how you could improve in this area and begin to give it conscious focus.
Trust is built by consistent behavior over time. Good organizational behavior is an extraordinary trust builder that requires patient and persistent commitment. Healthy organizational behavior fosters trust and builds great teams.