How to build trust in a team

by Jake Smolarek
Game pons

Markus Spiske / Pexels

Do you remember group projects at school? Everyone used to hate them. There was always one kid who wanted to dictate everything, another who claimed they didn't understand, and someone who always let the group down.

But the reason so many school projects failed is that the small team thrown together by your teacher had no trust. Put simply, no one trusted the other people to do the work the way they like it (or do it at all). And the result was usually a disaster.

I think that group projects at school are one reason we as adults say we hate working in a team. So many people I've met say they prefer to work alone even though they put "can work individually or in a team" on their resume.

However, some people have had the good fortune of working as part of a great team, a team with trust. Perhaps it was at school, or maybe a sports team, at college, university, or the workplace. At some point, once you've worked in a good team, you suddenly understand how good it can be and why teams are incredible.

The key to a good team is trust. If you've not had that good team experience yet, let me explain it to you.

What is trust?

It might sound like a simple question. But a lot of people don't actually know what trust is. The official definition of trust is "firm belief or faith in the reliability, truth or talent of someone or something."

A crucial part of trust is that it doesn't require proof. Trust is about faith, and that is something that often gets lost in teamwork.

Often, we want to know what everyone else is doing, why they do it that way, how their work fits with yours, why are they taking a break? But building trust in a team is about putting faith in other team members and knowing that you are all working towards the same goal. It is this collaboration and overarching aim that allows trust to be established.

Trust is not about micro-managing. Trust is about guidance and support and letting people exceed in their own way. This generally yields better results than telling someone how to do something. Let each person excel individually with the support of a good team, and you'll end up with greater success.

But with trust comes risk. You are risking the success of a project on the talent and abilities of others. This can be scary and overwhelming and is why people tend to fight, try too hard and micromanage. They want control over what is happening, and trust means giving up control to other people. But I promise it is worth it.

Why is trust important for a good team?

You've probably heard it before, and it makes you cringe; Teamwork makes the dream work.

But it really is true.

Good teamwork can benefit everyone, not just the big boss. Working as part of a team really does make everyone's life easier as well as benefitting the overall company. A successful team can accomplish much more than individuals working alone.

Time and time again, studies and research have shown that good teamwork improves engagement, commitment, and enthusiasm. Most people enjoy working as part of a team. It's more social, you can seek support and advice, help support others, and celebrating a win together is much better than celebrating alone.

Here's a breakdown of the benefits of building trust in teams:

Engagement: When you trust the people you work with, you're more likely to feel comfortable asking silly questions. People who trust their team members tend to be more comfortable asking for help, seeking advice, and actively engaging in the project.

Understanding: Of course, as people engage more with each other and with the project, their understanding increases. You'll find team members helping each other learn new skills, share fresh perspectives, and better understand the business, project, and overall aims.

Communication: With greater understanding and trust comes better communication skills. As people begin to trust one another, miscommunication mistakes will be eliminated. Miscommunications can lead to productivity problems, missed deadlines, dropped balls, and tension within the group.

Happiness: Being part of a strong, trusting team provides a level of safety. People who are happy with their team members tend to enjoy their work more than people who work alone or in a dysfunctional team. People are generally more content working around people they trust and tend to form stronger bonds than people who don't trust their colleagues.

Productivity: A team that works well together is more productive than a team that doesn't. It's fairly simple; when team members trust each other, they can accomplish more work to a higher quality in less time. Team members receive the support they need and provide support where it is required. They ask questions and innovate, and the results are spectacular.

Decision-making: Within groups with a strong bond and trust, decision-making tends to be more decisive and accurate. A group that trusts will happily follow someone's decision. The decision-maker will feel confident trusting their gut and taking a decision that will benefit the whole group. Fast, confident decision-making can only happen when the team trusts each other to make good choices.

Loyalty: With increased trust comes increased loyalty. Once team members enjoy the safety of working in a team they trust, they are less likely to leave a company. They know they'll have to build trust all over with another team, so they will want to stay where they are. This means you'll have increased employee loyalty, lower staff turnover, and happy employees.

How to build trust in a team

Hands stack on one other

fauxels / Pexels

Trust doesn't mean you have to like each other. You can't force people to like each other. But you can encourage respect, and with respect comes a certain amount of cooperation. If you are looking to promote good teamwork and collaboration, there are some activities you can do to help build trust in a team. And no, it doesn't always involve away days with abseiling and retreats for team building exercises.

Tackle issues

One of the most effective ways of building team trust is to make sure there are no apparent issues left undealt with. Give your team members a platform to provide anonymous feedback. This could range from unclear goals and targets to singling out other team members that aren't pulling their weight. Address any issues quickly. If someone really is letting the team down, they may need a new role or be better in a different group. If your team isn't clear of your goal, they might all be working with a slightly different aim which will naturally cause friction and problems.

Promote understanding

That being said, making sure everyone has a good understanding of the overall goal and their own specific goals and the targets of others helps build trust. It's easier to trust someone if you understand what they are doing and why. If team members don't know how others fit into the big picture or how their work will eventually tie into someone else's project, they may be sceptical of what is happening. Encourage people to ask questions of you and of each other. Understanding is the first step to building trust.

Find weak spots

Ask each team member to fill out an anonymous questionnaire. Ask them questions like "who on the team would you ask for support?", "Is there anyone you think needs more support in their role?" and "If you could switch roles with anyone in the team, who would it be?". You'll see patterns forming about who is the go-to person for advice, who they think has an easy ride, and who is struggling. This information can help inform your decisions going forward. Use the responses to adapt your strategy and ensure every one is as content in their role as possible and reassign work as necessary.

Switch roles

If you are working with a large team, try making sure people's roles switch around. This means everyone will work closely with different team members and prevent small cliches and friendship groups from forming. While friendship is generally good, it can be very dividing if it excludes some team members, and you might find yourself with a team within a team. This is counterproductive and can cause divides and slow down work. Not to mention it creates an unfriendly atmosphere and can crush morale.

Get personal

You don't need a weekend away to get to know someone. But companies do it because getting to learn more about someone personally does improve trust and build bonds. But quite frankly, a tab at the bar and a long lunch work just as well. Encourage team members to spend time together talking about something other than the project. They'll learn more about each other personally and connect on a different level. You can't trust someone if you don't know them. Forcing people to share information can be uncomfortable. Let people relax and get to know each other in an informal setting and watch as the team bonds and learns to trust one another.

Avoid the blame game

A team wins together and loses together. If you want to foster an atmosphere of positive trust, you can't let one person take the fall. If someone doesn't get their part of the job done, talk to the team about why they didn't provide more support. If one person is running late with a project, speak to the group about reassigning work to make it more manageable. Not only will this encourage people to ask for help from other team members, but it stops people from only looking out for themselves. Teamwork is a collective achievement, and no one should be left behind.

Lead by example

If you want your team to trust, you need to inspire trust and teamwork. Set a good example. Trust people to get their work done without you micromanaging them. Trust them to tell you what support they need. When you make a mistake, and they point it out, make it clear you have understood and will listen. Let them learn to trust you and have faith in your actions. This will lead to a team atmosphere in which making mistakes or asking for support is not frowned upon. Your team will feel able to trust themselves and each other to help get the job done.

Celebrate successes together

When one aspect of the project succeeds, make sure the whole team gets to enjoy the rewards. After all, it is a team effort. Make sure everyone feels they played a part in reaching a new target or achieving a milestone. Success is for everyone. Even support roles are crucial to a team's success as they allow everything else to function smoothly. No matter how small the position, they should share in the team's success. Shine a spotlight on team members rather than the leader, and you'll soon see that people want to work together for success because they know their efforts will be rewarded.

Remember: Trust can't be built overnight. It takes time and effort and must be cultivated. You can't expect a team to instantly gel and start trusting each other. It will take a while to achieve. And once you've built trust, you need to maintain it to ensure it isn't lost. But good trust within a team is irreplaceable, and it's definitely worth the time and effort to build a solid team.

About the Author

Jake Smolarek

Life and Business Coach & Entrepreneur

For over 10 years I have been helping people achieve their personal, professional, and financial goals faster and easier than they've ever imagined.

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