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How Can I Build Trust from the Team?

Mutual trust is a key characteristic of an effective team. The most significant adhesive binding team members together is mutual trust. In light of financial scandals at various corporations, at no time has this been as important. Trust translates into credibility or belief in a person.

In everyday conversations, when employees speak of trust in their manager, they are thinking in terms of:




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Reliability. They expect their manager to carry through on promises. If you say that you’ll do something, they want to know they can count on your word.

Fairness. Employees believe that their manager will not take advantage in any way. If they disagree with their manager or have to give him or her "bad news," they believe that they won’t be punished in any way. They can trust their manager to listen to their ideas without fear of disapproval, either now or in the future.

Truthfulness. Team employees count on their manager to express feelings freely, to say what he or she means as well as mean what he or she says. There are no games being played on either side in a well-managed team. No one plays flimflam. If an employee in a high-trust team operation is uncertain what the manager meant, he or she can simply ask the manager to clarify his or her remarks.

Trust is a value, and like many values it is best understood by considering the behaviors associated with it. Consider the following:

Consistency and predictability. Unpredictable behavior breeds anxiety and mistrust. (Visualize an employee who repeatedly and anxiously tells peers, "I hope this is what the manager wants.")

A congenial, supportive atmosphere. You should be able to express your feelings freely and thereby build a sense of intimacy among members. Feelings that are withheld make for mistrust.

Support. Behaviors like sharing, clarifying, and giving praise are all supportive and encourage trust. Belittling others or nit-picking about errors stimulate distrust.

Coaching and counseling. A willingness on your part to spend time helping an employee improve his or her performance builds trust.

Listening. Consider the alternative: "The manager never listens to what we have to say." That suggests lack of trust.

Encouragement of questions. Again, a willingness to answer questions from the group demonstrates a desire to build trust between you and the group.

Courteousness. Considerate behavior impacts favorably on trust.

Opportunities for experimentation and risk taking. These build trust so long as failures are considered as learning opportunities, not mistakes for which team members are punished. Taking miscues in stride, as opposed to stressing errors and shortcomings, builds trust.

Accurate, reliable information. It makes for trust whereas mixed messages make for mistrust.

Brainstorming with the group and treating all the results with respect. Adjectives like "silly," "far-out," or "impractical" aren’t used. Rather, you would say, "Let’s review all of our ideas and select those on which we can get full agreement."

Insistence on face-to-face criticism of a team. This builds trust, not backstabbing, which divides team members and generates distrust.

Consensual decision making, when used appropriately. Decisions based on fiat reduce trust.

Use of win/win problem solving approaches. Making points or winning over others makes for distrust.