Several questions from audience members at recent speeches got me thinking about trust and what can be done to increase trust on teams. This fourth post in the series moves away from my normal focus on personal accountability to look at some of the practices and processes that teams can implement to support or bolster trust.  These approaches work best in conjunction with the right trust mindset and the right actions on the part of team members.

Practices to support trust

1. Get to know one another, deeply

If you’ve been reading this series on trust, you know how fundamental connection is as a starting point for trust. People you understand (and who you see as predictable) are easier to trust. That’s why I strongly encourage your team to use a robust personality or style tool to help you to understand yourselves and each other.  Ideally, use a tool that provides insight not just on the obvious behavioral preferences, but also on more implicit aspects of style such as people’s needs and expectations of their environment.  Second, look for a tool that addresses both the positive and the negative aspects of the style—understanding the stress behaviors on your team is critical to building trust.  As frequent readers of the blog know, I’m partial to the Birkman Method.

2. Set clear roles and responsibilities

Mistrust can creep in very quickly when roles and responsibilities aren’t clear. Overlapping responsibilities create perceptions of meddling whereas gaps in accountabilities can lead to failure and finger pointing.  Head off both problems by frequently articulating clear roles and responsibilities.  Go through each aspect of a project and make sure everyone is clear on who is on point. Where shared accountability is unavoidable, discuss the unique value each person will bring to the task. Don’t ignore this step and don’t short change it…it is definitely a case of slow is fast.  One great way to do this is to do annual goal setting in a group format.  That way, everyone can get clear on how they need to make one another successful.

3. Use project plans

I am constantly surrounded by teams of action-oriented executives who seem to think that project plans are a waste of time. Project plans are not a waste of time!  Trust depends on a shared sense of priorities among a team and when there is no mechanism for establishing priorities and deadlines, too much rests on faith in one another.  I don’t care if your project plan is 4 bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation or whether it’s a GANTT chart in 4-point font, just make sure it’s appropriate for the task at hand and that it gives everyone a shared way to plan their work and to assess progress.

4. Establish an escalation process for issues

One sure way to destroy the trust on a team is to permit hallway gossip and back-channel decision making. But that’s what happens when your team doesn’t have clear rules of the road and a process for dealing with prickly issues.  To prepare for inevitable sticky situations, set up an escalation process that team members are expected to follow.  A good process has a first level where you need to address issues directly with one another first.  Only after trying unsuccessfully to resolve issues directly should team members involve the team leader (and even then, only for coaching). Your escalation process can include when issues come back to the team for discussion, and when the team leader will step in to resolve an issue.  [Note: Team leaders; once you have an escalation process, you need to stick with it!]

5. Use a team feedback mechanism annually

When your team is ready, institute a team feedback process to help you continue your development as good team members. This process should only be undertaken once there is a reasonably high degree of trust because feedback in a low trust environment tends to be either overly-harsh (when team members use the impunity of anonymity to vent frustrations) or tepid (where concerns about retribution cause people to be less than candid).  But if your team is ready, try asking these questions:

  • What is the primary value this person brings to the team?
  • What does this person do that detracts from the effectiveness of the team?
  • What is one request that you would make of this person?

Trust is a very personal feeling and one that is difficult to hardwire with policies or processes. Although these practices won’t create trust, they will make it a little easier for you and your teammates to build trust through strong connections, bolstered confidence, shared priorities, and communication forums. At least then trust has a fighting chance to take hold.

Further Reading

The Surprising Source of Most Trust Issues

Trust can’t Come at the Expense of Diversity

Be Proactive in Building your Trust in Others

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