Trust: The Foundation for Successful Teams

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Mark Complete

Building Trust with New Teams

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"Without trust we don't truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team."
- STEVEN R. COVEY

As the pace of change continues to increase, the demand on individuals and teams to become more agile is higher than ever. For organizations to successfully respond to changes in their external or internal environments, teams are often created, restructured, or eliminated. Whether you have a mixture of new and old team members or a completely new set of people working together, it’s critical to build trust as a team before goals can be accomplished together.

What is a team without trust?

It’s likely, if you’re leading a newly formed or restructured team, that there is a demand for the team to hit the ground running and produce results. While it’s true that we need our teams to be agile and ready to get to work, it’s also true that trust is the foundation of effective relationships which leads to organizational success. Without trust teams are unable to perform well. When teams are suffering from a lack of trust members often don’t communicate well with one another, avoid sharing information, and are less likely to be innovative, creative, or solve problems together.

Although the definition of trust can vary depending on the individual, the concept of trust is directly related to a sense of psychological safety. When people feel safe they are willing to open up, present ideas, take risks, and fail together as a team. When we don’t feel safe we battle over responsibilities, micromanage, and avoid collaboration. We may avoid speaking up for fear of retribution or damage to our relationships. The feeling of safety in our teams allows us to do our best work, innovate, and increase productivity as individuals and as a team. In fact, when Google studied what makes their teams successful, they found that the number one factor was psychological safety.

Actions to Build Trust

Some individuals automatically trust others, while some take more time to establish trusting relationships. The following actions can build trust between individuals or teams.

Build Trust with New Teams in 5 Steps

Explain why this team has been created or restructured. What is the team’s purpose? What is the team hoping to accomplish? Why were specific individuals chosen to be on this team?

Spend time getting to know each other. Share personal stories conveying why you enjoy this work, meaningful accomplishments, backgrounds and skills.

Set the tone for the work the team will do and how they will interact with each other. Determine what the team values. What expectations do individuals on the team have of each other? What behaviors are accepted by the team and which are not?

Identify the roles and responsibilities of team members. Align roles and responsibilities to specific skills and expertise of team members. Verify all team members understand their role and the roles of other team members.

Meet as a team and discuss current or potential barriers to accomplishing team goals. What is stopping the team from reaching optimal efficiency? What are the barriers the team is experiencing? Ask the team to think of solutions to eliminate silos, and remove communication barriers, and any other obstacles they foresee.

Building trust with new teams or established teams is a nonstop process. Continuously build trust on teams by making deposits in individuals’ emotional bank accounts, keeping the team aligned to their purpose and goals, and checking in regularly to make connection and reduce barriers. As the team makes progress celebrate the small wins and recognize and reward success of individual team members.

Anticipate Conflict

High performing teams, and teams of individuals who are just getting to know each other may have different ideas, visions, and opinions. As the team leader, be prepared to manage all voices and conflicts that may occur as teams are beginning to build trust and execute together.

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