10 Solutions for Building Team Trust

By Dee Hutchinson

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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Team trust is the basis for every successful team, and it is foundational in terms of having highly motivated, happy, and productive teams. We all know that trust needs to be earned.

Here are the top 10 indicators that your team may not fully trust you yet, and what you can do to address that:

1. Your Team is Keeping Secrets

One of the easiest ways to know if your team doesn’t trust you is if they regularly and consistently withhold information from you. They may do this for several reasons. However, it’s most likely that they’re withholding information because they are fearful of your reaction.

Maybe they had previously had managers who reacted very negatively when they admitted a mistake.

You will know that your team is withholding information from you because you will discover performance issues.

If you are experiencing this type of behavior, you can do the following to rectify it:

  • Either through team meetings or one-on-one meetings, make it clear what you need to know and why. When they understand the repercussions of withholding information, their behavior will start to change for the better.
  • Openly discuss if there are any concerns they have in disclosing information to you. It would be good to give them an example of a recent incident where information was not disclosed and ask them what would have to change to make it easier for them to disclose information when they need it. The fact that you are asking this question displays that you are genuinely interested in hearing their opinion and are concerned. This alone helps to build trust. It is also important that team members are given the opportunity to propose a solution to this, as the key factor to resolving this issue is really in their hands.
  • I would reassure your team that you are always open and available for them to approach and talk to whenever they need you. I would reinforce that your goal is the success of the team and every member of the team. That you want to build strong open relationships with everyone and that you are always open to feedback.

2. Support is Lacking

Lack of support is displayed in many ways:

  • They don’t follow orders
  • They don’t complete tasks on time
  • They argue with you (often in front of the team and even in front of your boss)
  • They find opportunities to discredit you
  • They completely ignore you and are unresponsive to your requests

These are all symptoms of a team or team members who don’t fully trust you yet. These behaviors need to be addressed quickly, as a team can’t function when these things are happening.

For issues like this, I would not recommend addressing them in front of the whole team at once. It would be wise to invest time into meeting team members individually.

You can take the following approach and state that:

  • You have noticed some behaviors within the team that are really impacting how the team works together and achieves results.
  • You want to understand this problem better so that you can fully appreciate the team’s needs and formulate a solution.
  • You would appreciate input on what they think is happening and why, and what a potential solution could be.

It would help if you allowed them to talk. Don’t interrupt or get defensive, no matter what they say. These meetings are maybe difficult for you not to take personally.

But remember that you are the role model and leader of this team. Remember to stay calm and objective. Rise above the noise, and persist in working towards a solution.

When solutions have been proposed, decide what you will implement, and bring the team together to debrief them on your decision. You will build trust quickly when you show the team that you have listened to them, taken their opinions into account, and implemented the solutions they have suggested.

If you are not going to implement some of their suggestions, that’s okay. You don’t have to agree with everything they propose.

But you should thank everyone for contributing, and if you want to, you can explain why you have chosen to focus on the suggestions you have for clarification and reassurance.

3. Conversations Stop or Change Focus When You Enter the Room

This isn’t a particularly nice experience to go through, and the team’s very passive-aggressive behavior lets you know how they feel. When your team behaves in this manner, they often do it to see how you react.

One of my favorite approaches to this is ‘to kill them with kindness. By this, I mean I am so sickeningly sweet that eventually, they must give in and eventually say hello or otherwise react positively.  You can wear them down by showing how nice you are.

I believe that behind every negative behavior is a cry for help. For example, if I say hello to one of my team members and they don’t respond to me, I try to understand what’s going on instead of being reactive.

Maybe they’ve been ignored by a previous manager; maybe they feel undervalued, like they don’t really ‘exist’ – literally like no one sees or hears them.

By ignoring me, they may be showing that they are the one who feels ignored. When you look at the behavior with this approach, you demonstrate the highest emotional intelligence levels. You are seeking to understand before being understood.

Make time to get to know that person. Spend time with them and ask them questions. Allow them to get to know you. Show them that you ‘see’ them.

Through your actions, demonstrate that you are ‘listening’ to them. Do this consistently, and you will have fans for life.

4. You’re Excluded From Social Gatherings

Another passive-aggressive response is to literally ostracize you from events both in and out of the office. No matter how tough you may be, this can really hurt.

You have to keep reminding yourself that this exclusion from events you should be invited to is just another way of the team saying that they don’t trust you enough….yet.

When you have the opportunity, ask anyone who attended if they had a good time to show that you are fine with not being invited. When the team realizes this doesn’t bother you, they will quite quickly stop doing it.

Be patient with them. Keep focused on getting to know each team member better and show you are there for them and want the team to succeed.

5. You Get Interrogated when Giving Direction

When you have a team that trusts you implicitly, they will do what you ask without question. The team doesn’t need to know why or how because they trust your leadership. And the opposite is true when there isn’t an adequate amount of trust. You might find that you get an absolute grilling any time you ask the team to do something.

For example, ‘Why do we have to do that?’ ‘What is that going to achieve?’ ‘What exactly are you asking us to do?’ etc.

This bullet spray of questions is often used to test you in terms of your knowledge and confidence. And it can also demonstrate that the team needs to be shown a massive amount of ‘evidence’ from you before they are willing to take any action.

Be patient with them. Please answer the questions calmly and professionally, and show them that you’re confident in your leadership.

6. You are the Topic of the Grapevine

Rumors can take lots of different forms. They can be outright lies about you, or they can take a more subtle but equally ominous form that serves to undermine your ability, your credibility, your experience, and your intentions.

Rumors are frustrating, as it can be hard to prove that someone has actually said something. There’s a lot of hearsay, making it difficult to address. In fact, you may not even be aware that rumors are being spread in the first place.

Once a rumor comes to your attention, it needs to be nipped in the bud quickly. More often than not, people choose to ignore rumors, and in some cases, that is the right course of action, particularly if you deem that the rumor is harmless and not worth your precious time to address.

However, if you are bothered by what is being said and believe that your authority is being undermined, the only way forward is to face it head-on.

Again, this is just another way of the team testing you, and they will be looking for a reaction. Just like in the points made previously – ‘go high’ and be firm. Let the team know that you have become aware of the rumor.  It is perfectly okay to let them know how that rumor makes you feel and/or impacts you (often, showing that you are human to your team will endear you more to them).

Be totally clear – tell them that you do not engage in rumor-mongering because it is harmful and childish behavior that can seriously impact a person’s well-being.

I would go as far as to say that this is a form of bullying, and it will absolutely not be tolerated in any shape or form. Reiterate that if anyone has any questions they would like to ask you or if they are ever unsure of your intentions or why something is being done, your door is always open to help clarify, respond and listen.

7. People Don’t Want to Work on Your Team

I only want people on my team that wants to work with me. If a team member expresses the desire to move to another team, I will do everything I can to find them a suitable role elsewhere, and I will do this professionally and with concern. I will let them know that I am sad to see them go and that I really wish them well.

Not everyone will like us all the time, and I think it safe to assume that at some point in our careers, we have worked with or for someone that we didn’t get along with. That’s life!

If the team member can be moved successfully to another team, then go ahead and do it!  If there is no role for them elsewhere in the business, you should find some common ground that will make for a workable relationship.

In the end, it’s not important that the team likes you (although that would be nice). The team must respect you, and no matter how much someone may dislike you, you can still earn respect.

8. Your Team Won’t Admit to Making Mistakes

This behavior definitely has an element of fear underneath it. When a team member is not willing to own up to a mistake, it is because they fear the repercussions – they might get in trouble, be negatively judged, lose their job, etc.

Teams and individuals only behave in this way when they have had negative experiences of owning up to mistakes before or don’t know/trust you well enough to know how you will react.

I live by the adage that there is ‘no such thing as failure, only feedback,’ and I instill this in all of my teams. What does that mean exactly? Well, we learn by making mistakes, and if a mistake has resulted in us learning something, then how on earth can that be viewed as a ‘failure’?

Now, it requires really high levels of trust for people to own up to their mistakes. Even when you trust your boss, it can be difficult to put your hand up and admit to a mistake because nobody wants to look bad, right?

My approach to addressing this issue is to talk about the importance of learning consistently and learning from our mistakes. Share that you, in fact, don’t know absolutely everything and make mistakes now and again too. Nobody is perfect!

Tell the team that you support them wholeheartedly and want them to be successful. Let team members know that if and when mistakes are made, you believe they didn’t do it on purpose and that they will get it right the next time.

What’s really important and what defines very high-performing teams is that they are not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. High-performing teams do make mistakes, but I like to describe them as ‘better quality’ mistakes!

9. Their Words Say One Thing, But Their Body Language Says Another

You just asked one of your team to do something for you. They say ‘yes’ with their words but the rest of their body is screaming ‘hell no’! They haven’t made any eye contact at all with you; their body is turned away from you, their jaw is clenched, and you can see a little twitching on the side of their face. And the tone of their ‘yes’ didn’t sound at all convincing.

We are picking up on incongruent language all the time, and by incongruent, I mean that the words do not match the body language or tone of voice. You can tell – often, it’s just a gut feeling that the person does not mean what they are saying.

There are a couple of important things here:

  • Unless you are Dr. Cal Lightman from the series ‘Lie to Me’, then you are not qualified to judge if someone is being truthful with you or not
  • People react ‘in congruently’ for all sorts of different reasons. And you would need to be a mind-reader to know what is actually going on in someone’s head.
  • Take note that you feel the person may not be fully on board with what they agree to. You can ask them questions to appreciate their concern better, if any, might be, e.g., “I would love to hear how you will handle this task?” What, if anything, do you need from me to assist you? If you had one question to help make this clear for you, what would that be?

Body language is very telling, and your active listening skills will be on overdrive if you are currently managing a team where trust is a concern. Watch for signs of in-congruence – keep an open mind and ask plenty of questions.

10. The Team is Guarded and Keeps to Themselves

Being guarded is quite normal, particularly if you are new to managing the team and they don’t know you.

Often team members may be a bit nervous around the new boss and are waiting for you to make the first move, so to speak.  Be as personable and friendly as you can – remember to smile and find opportunities to say hello, mingle with the team and allow them to get to know you.

If you have been managing your team for a while and they are still being guarded, there are a couple of things you can do:

1. Get out of the office and organize a team dinner or social event, specifically one that involves the team being together, i.e., going to the cinema is not going to lead to much interaction.

I have found that getting out of the office into a social setting allows the team to relax and open up.  Something as simple as going bowling together, sharing a nice dinner, or just hanging out together in a social setting can really stimulate trust building and team rapport.

2. Initiate a team project to improve communication. Let the team owner drive the project – have them come up with solutions to improve how the team operates.

I love putting the opportunity to find and implement solutions into the team’s control – it empowers them, shows them that you trust them, and is a brilliant learning experience.

3. Implement a Shadow the Leader day where each team member gets to spend one day with you. They become your shadow for the day.

This 3 step plan is a brilliant opportunity for you to get to know them better and vice versa. It gives them a great inside view of what you do on a day-to-day basis. It helps them appreciate the challenges that you face. It gives them insight into the job of a ‘leader’ and is a terrific developmental experience.

How Can You Build Team Trust?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dee Hutchinson
Dee Hutchinson
Dee Hutchinson is the Founder and CEO of Catalyst International, an international talent engagement and development company. Dee has over 20 years corporate experience and has won over 30 industry awards in the fields of Customer Experience, Employee Engagement and Learning & Development. She works across the globe with major multi-nationals enabling them to deliver exceptional levels of Employee Engagement.
  • Mitiku Tadesse says:

    Building team trust is a bsase for team spirirt as well as effective and efficient work.

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