How To Build Teams Through Trust

Douglas Gerber, founder and CEO of leadership team coaching firm Focus One, has worked with more than 100 leadership teams over the past decade. He's asked them all what's the most important aspect of a successful team. Trust is the most frequent answer.

"Trust is fundamental to any high-performance team," Gerber said. "Clients say trust is the most essential ingredient, yet it is the hardest to build."

Trust forms the foundation of how people communicate and interact with each other, says Dennis Reina, co-founder with his wife, Michelle, of Stowe, Vt.-based trust-building consultancy Reina. Trust fosters creativity, innovation and willingness to think outside the box.

"People feel safe to be open and honest and to make mistakes, so they're willing to take risks," Michelle Reina told IBD. "We find it's equally important to build trust when you're growing as it is when you're having problems because you're moving so fast."

Build teams through trust to get your people to work smoothly and efficiently together. Here's how.

Give Honest Assessments

Teams aren't always together for years. They might join forces for one project. Feedback is the fastest way to build trust, says Gerber, author of "Team Quotient." It's most effective when it's done as a group, with each person saying what they appreciate about the other's contributions and where the other person could contribute more.

"You're not talking about personal performance," Gerber said. "It's only about the person's contribution to the team so there's no need to be defensive. When you do this, you'll notice a palpable shift in energy. I've seen two team members who weren't even talking to each other end up hugging. You get some real transformational things."

Follow Up

Gerber asks people after the feedback session to make commitments to new behaviors. It might be to listen more before talking over people, or to actively participate in team meetings. He sends those commitments to each team member. He later surveys team members to see how people have performed on those promises.

"If I make commitments, my team members hold me accountable and trust follows," he said. "What gets measured gets done."

Be Purposeful

Define trust and discuss how it plays out in the workplace. The Reinas worked with an airline's leadership team that was struggling with a tech initiative that was behind schedule. The group discovered people at the airline weren't open with each other. Some had impromptu closed meetings before and after bigger meetings. Once they opened up to each other, their trust scores improved and they delivered the project on time.

"They learned how to support one another," Michelle Reina said. "Feedback became the norm rather than taking potshots at each other."

Work On It

Teams can problem-solve by identifying the behaviors they can improve to build trust among each other and practice those. To build trust of character, work on hitting project deadlines.

"When trust is high, people go above and beyond and exceed expectations," Michelle Reina said. "When trust is low, the status quo becomes the norm and the creative life force is sucked out of it."

Measure It

Keep track of your team's progress in developing trust behaviors. The Reinas worked with a financial services company on areas such as providing open and honest feedback. People had been focused on their own area and failed to see the bigger picture of team success. After improving those behaviors, employee engagement scores rose by 25 points.

"They took pride in how and what was being created together," Dennis Reina said.

When people trust each other, everything speeds up. People don't question each other's motives, conflicts are resolved quickly and the team can focus on the important tasks.

"It makes the whole thing more effective," Gerber said. "People aren't always looking over their shoulder. They can relax into their work."

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