Updated: Sep 1, 2021
My husband is a firefighter, and I often tease him if he forgets to wear his wedding ring outside the house. “Put that thing on! Otherwise, you’ll be a walking chick-magnet!” As if the ring were an invisible force field that fends off all women.
It’s not the case, of course, and even if it were, it’d be unnecessary. I trust my husband implicitly. If he came home from his shift one morning with lipstick on his face, and blonde hair on his uniform, I’d think, “Oh, they must have been called to a car accident last night involving a costume truck or van of clowns.”
And that would likely be the case. I sincerely have no reason to expend energy, time, and emotion questioning him or his actions based on one odd circumstance.
That’s the same level of trust we should strive for within our teams. When something unusual at work happens, or a cryptic text comes through riddled with typos, you should be able to say: “I trust this person, let me read this situation through that filter.”
In the book Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey defines trust as confidence. Specifically confidence in a person’s integrity and ability. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them, their integrity, their agenda, and their capabilities.
Trust and distrust are like brain filters. We don’t actively think about them, but they filter each person, situation, and conversation we encounter, and that has a direct link to our efficiency and effectiveness.
Your trust in your team
Let’s start with your immediate team. Do you trust that when they have a task to accomplish, that they’ll do it on time, with high quality, and in their own unique way? Do you trust that—even when they do mess up—they did so while truly trying to accomplish the goal at hand?
If so—fantastic! Those are the people you want on your team.
Sometimes more junior team members might need guidance and coaching, but for those who don’t need that attention: simply hold them accountable for what they deliver, and by when, but give them the space to do it how it best suits them. The more you trust them, the less time you’ll spend worrying, wondering, or worse… micromanaging!
It’ll also build your team’s morale, and they’ll feel free to bring more creativity and innovation to the next task. And in the end, the result will often be better than you could have done yourself.
Hire people you trust, then trust the people you hire. This will increase your team’s efficiency.
Your team’s trust in each other
If your team is fairly new, or you’re new in your position, there are ways you can build trust in the team without foisting on them a corporate-mandated ropes course or trust falls.
One great way is to start by getting everyone focused on a small project that has a pretty fast turn around. Maybe it’s germane to an existing project, or it’s something completely different like: plan a presentation to a different department, or plan our team’s off-site retreat.
Give them the goal, deadline, and time to work on this, and check in every so often to see how you can be helpful or if they’ve hit any road blocks.
Another, more organic way, is to get know each person individually, find out what they’re really good at, then—in meetings or online discussions—draw those gifts out of each person. Ask them questions directly, when you know they’ll have unique insight. Task them with things that the rest of the team is dependent on, and watch them come through with flying colors.
When the team works in the spirit of trust, each person won’t worry about what others are up to; they’ll trust their colleagues are doing their jobs, just as you’re doing yours. The goal is to guide this team to achieve amazing results that no one team member could have done on his or her own.
Your team’s trust in you
One of my previous managers often said, “Praise publicly; criticize privately.”
Does your team know that you give them credit when things go well? Do you take the blame when things don’t go as planned? Does your team trust that you have their back?
The team needs to trust that you genuinely want the best for each individual and that you want their gifts and talents to be put to use and shine.
Even more specifically: Can your team trust you to do what you say you’ll do? Trust can be built or broken in the smallest ways.
I’ve worked with managers who were notorious for missing deadlines. They would commit to a certain deadline, but then the whole team—even their own direct reports—inwardly rolled their eyes because they knew it wouldn’t really happen. That date always came and went with the same old excuses. I had to pad project plans in unusual ways to account for these individuals. It became second nature to double—even triple—their time estimates, no matter how sincere they were when giving their deadlines.
Is that the culture you want on your team: where one person says “Yes, I’ll do it by this date” but no one believes them? That will chip away at your team morale and trust so quickly.
This is on you, team leaders. You need to set an example here. If you set a deadline for yourself, and you commit to it: hit it. If you miss it, own it, and don’t give the regular excuses; just own it, apologize, and let the team know how you’ll correct yourself next time in order to hit the next one.
Trust will lead to honesty and efficiency
Team members can be hesitant to bring you bad news. But if your team has a strong foundation of trust, they will have the confidence to say “I don’t have enough time to get this task done” or “I’m really behind” or “I messed up and completely missed this one step in the QA process.”
If trust is ingrained in the way you and your team operate, it saves time and builds morale. If you trust your team, you can troubleshoot problems, accomplish your goals, and achieve the impact you’re striving for much more quickly.