How to Build Trust on Your Team

Trust is like the air we breathe — when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices.
– Warren Buffett

Why is trust important?

Trust is critical for the success of any business. It makes collaboration possible. It’s the fertile soil that nurtures a team’s ideas and goals. Without it, it’s like farming in the desert.

That’s because on low trust teams people only act out of self-preservation. This can look like:

The manager who micromanages their team because they don’t believe that they can do their work properly.

  • The result: The manager has no time to focus on their own work and the employees have no confidence or agency.

The employee who sees their coworkers as rivals and does everything they can to undermine them and make themselves look good.

  • The result: The employee thwarts team goals and makes their coworkers feel unsupported.

The company leader who doesn’t share company goals and struggles with employees in order to protect them.

  • The result: Employees are confused and stressed by organizational changes and don’t feel invested in their work.

It’s easy to imagine how this behavior can hinder a team’s success.

In contrast, teams with a high level of trust are more productive and produce higher quality work.

In a survey of 1,095 working adults in the U.S, it found that compared to people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction in their lives
  • 40% less burnout
  • 60% more job satisfaction
  • 70% more aligned with the company mission

Its clear trust makes a difference in how employees feel and behave.

This translates to the bottom line. In a survey by the Interaction Associates, they found companies with the highest level of trust were 2.5x more likely to be leaders in revenue growth.

Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.
– Seth Godin

How does trust work?

It’s undeniable that trust is important to success. But how does this one emotion have so much impact? Trust reduces friction. It allows work to move forward smoothly. Because when you trust, you aren’t wasting time micromanaging, double-checking, and manipulating. Trust creates confidence in your team and the future.

On a neurological level, research has shown that trust is associated with spikes in oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Often called the “love hormone”, oxytocin is associated with pair bonding and relationship. It’s been shown to increase empathy and generosity. So when we trust, we feel connected to others.

In contrast, high levels of stress hormones inhibits the release of oxytocin and puts us into survival mode. It cuts us off from others and focuses us solely on self-preservation.

So the key to allowing the expression of trust is making people feel safe and in control. This happens when their interpersonal needs are met.

According to the FIRO theory of needs, every group needs three things to effectively work together.

  • Connection

Humans are social animals. To varying degrees, we all crave closeness with others. We want to care about other people and we want them to care about us. In a work context, creating connections is about taking the time to get to know coworkers as people.

  • Control

Teams need to feel shared responsibility. Every team needs people to lead, provide structure, and make decisions. This responsibility shouldn’t be given to one person. It’s shared on the team. And every individual needs a balance between autonomy and guidance. An entry level employee will probably want and need a manager to provide structure, but an experienced outside contributor will not. Successful teams clearly define responsibilities based on individuals abilities and preferences.

  • Inclusion

People want to feel they belong. In a work context, teams need to feel a part of the vision and long term goals of their organization. If people don’t feel included, they will be less likely to contribute new ideas and less invested in the greater goals.

So if you can meet these needs on your team, trust will naturally occur.

Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create.
– Stephen R. Covey

Strategies to build trust

So now we understand what trust is. But how can you build it on your team? What are the practical steps you need to take?

Here are seven strategies to build trust on your team:

  1. Lead With Integrity

People want their leaders to be ethical. If employees believe their leaders have good intentions, they are more to likely to be committed them. In a survey of office employees by Robert Half Management Resources, 75 percent cited integrity as the most important attribute in a company leader.

Practical Step: Conduct a self-audit to find how others view you. Reach out to managers and employees to understand what you do well and how you can improve. Questions you ask could include: Are you perceived as honest? Do you treat people differently based on their standing? Are you seen as someone who keeps their word?

  1. Encourage Vulnerability

No one likes to deliver bad news or show weakness. But secure leaders know to ask for help, say what they don’t know, and admit when they’ve made a mistake. Being vulnerable involves risk, and so does innovation. Creating an environment where it’s okay to be vulnerable encourages employees be honest and take risks. When leaders always put on a front, employees aren’t going to believe what they say. They will also feel the need to hide weakness and mistakes, which could serious business consequences.

Practical Step: Next time you have bad news (such as a major client ending a contract), resist the urge to hide the facts until something good happens and instead be vulnerable and tell your team in person. See how they react.

  1. Disseminate Information Widely

Uncertainty causes stress. When leaders keep employees in the dark about company goals and strategies, they can’t connect to the purpose behind their work. Organizational changes will seem arbitrary. As a result, employees will inevitably feel less invested. So, it’s critical that leadership regularly check in with employees about the greater strategy and vision.

Practical Step: Leadership should set up monthly meetings to review long-term strategy and progress towards goals.

  1. Empower People To Take Responsibility For Their Work

People want to be trusted to manage their own work. When you tell people that you trust them to get the job done, they are motivated to prove you right. It makes them feel that their work makes a difference and is important. In a survey by Citigroup and Linkedin, they found that 47% of employees would sacrifice a 20% raise to get more flexibility into how they worked.

Practical Step: Try to give your team more autonomy in your next project. Divide up responsibilities and tell your team that you trust them to figure out the best way to get their work done. Set up status meetings to check on progress, but otherwise give your team leeway to get it done. You may be surprised by the results.

  1. Build Relationships

When a team is bonded and has real concern for each other as people, they are going to work harder and help each other. That’s because they don’t want to let people they care about down. It’s critical to create an environment where it’s easy to form these connections.

Practical Step: If you don’t have one already, set up a weekly happy hour or lunch to allow for more time for team members to get to know one another on a personal level.

  1. Engage In Respectful Conflict Resolution

Conflict is inevitable on any team. When this happens, it’s important to engage respectfully. It may feel good to place blame, but it doesn’t solve the deeper issues. Use “I” statements to express how you feel, and actively listen to what others say in response. Once you understand both sides of the issue, work together to find a solution.

Practical Step: Set up a workshop in conflict resolution where the team can learn active listening techniques.

  1. Recognize Good Work

People liked to be appreciated for their good work. If they work hard without recognition, it kills their motivation. So it’s important to praise your employees when they do good work, not just at yearly performance reviews.

Practical Step: Challenge yourself to share your appreciation with one person on your team each day. Make sure it’s something specific that you genuinely appreciate, not some general platitude.

No organization can succeed for long without trust. It’s not easy to build, but it will have the most powerful long-term impact on your company.