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How to build trust on your team

May 27, 2020 | Team cohesion

In this video, Liz highlights the importance of trust on a team and explains the crucial difference between predictive trust and vulnerability-based trust.

Teamwork has never been more important than it is right now. No team is going to come through this period of lockdown the same…they will either come through stronger or weaker. As a leader, you have an opportunity to help your team come through stronger.

The most important behaviour of a cohesive and high-performing team is trust. It’s not the only behaviour of a cohesive and high performing team, but it is the most important. And at a time like the one we all find ourselves in now, it is important than ever to focus on building trust in your team.

Truthfully, there will never be a time when a team should stop working on trust, just like any other relationship. And yes, building trust is hard. And yes, it takes time. But the rewards are huge.

At this point I’d like to point out that the kind of trust that’s important on a team is vulnerability-based trust. Many of the leaders and teams I work with initially confuse this with predictive trust. There is a difference.

Predictive trust

Predictive trust is when you’ve come to know someone fairly well and can pretty accurately predict how they are going to behave or react in any given situation. E.g. I might know how my team member might react if I ask them to do something at the last minute.

That’s not the kind of trust that builds a cohesive and high-performing team. The kind of trust that builds a cohesive and high-performing team is vulnerability-based trust. Where team members can be genuinely open and honest with one another. When team members can be confident that their team mates’ intentions are good and that there is no reason to be careful or protective around them.

Vulnerability-based trust

Vulnerability-based trust is present in a team when the members are able to say things like:

  • I was wrong.
  • I made a mistake.
  • I need help.
  • I’m not sure.
  • You’re better at this than me.
  • I’m sorry.

Vulnerability based trust is important because people who aren’t afraid to admit the truth about themselves are unlikely to engage in the kind of destructive behaviour that wastes everybody’s time and energy.

I’m sure you can all think back to a team you’ve been a part of where this kind of trust was absent and the impact that had on the performance of the team.

I’d like to share one tip for building vulnerability-based trust on your team. And that is to encourage you, as the leader of the team, to be willing to set the tone and be vulnerable with those you are leading even without any guarantees of the outcome. You can do this by readily admitting when you are wrong or when you have made a mistake. You can do this by apologising when an apology might be needed. I remember a conversation a while back with someone I mentored, she told me that when a leader apologises to her, it makes her trust them even more.

You can also demonstrate vulnerability-based trust by admitting when you don’t have the answers. This is a time of great uncertainty. No-one knows the answers. And your team members are quite ok with you admitting that.

By failing to admit that you are leaving the elephant in the room. Yes, you can mitigate this by providing clarity where you can provide it. But simply not communicating with your team members about the things that they might be asking and that you don’t have the answers to is going to erode trust on your team

Now is the time to up your communication, even if it includes an acknowledgement that you don’t yet have answers for them. You can tell them you don’t have the answers but that you do know you’re in this together with them and that you will do your best for them and the organisation. That kind of communication builds trust!

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