Why teams need trust

The six members of the Atlantis project team have come together to set priorities for the next year. They have been working virtually and haven’t been together in person for quite a long time. A couple of team members have had some disagreements over the past year, and both are somewhat hesitant about how it will be to work together. Others in the team are also concerned about how they will work out their differences.

The task-focused approach

As the team leader lays out the number of projects and they begin to discuss, it’s clear that Micky and Naina have different preferences and they aren’t giving each other much latitude; they become entrenched with their own preferences and others start taking sides as well. Hours are spent debating small points with little progress towards alignment. It’s becoming clear that a way forward is not going to be easy. The team leader starts to feel the need to take sides just so the team could move forward but she also knows that this would be destructive.

Take 2: instead, they invest time in building trust

The team leader recognises that they have some important work to do, and they are going to have to make some tough decisions. They also don’t have a lot of time. But instead of going straight to the drawing board and laying out the hard work, she invests time in developing open communication and team trust.

She sets aside three hours to have the team meet together, discuss how they are personally, and what they need as a part of this team. They look at their differences and work to understand each other, their needs, preferences and desires right now.

Once communication is flowing, people are talking to each other, they are building on each others’ ideas and stories, then she knows that it’s time to put the work on the table.

Trust matters

When you trust someone, you will listen to their thoughts, perspectives and reasons for making a choice – you trust that there is something valid in their view. Without trust, you can believe this person’s view just is not valid.

When team members trust each other, they know they can push back on each other’s ideas and it’s not going to be taken personally. They can disagree, but they will be more likely to listen to an opposing view with curiosity.

It’s easier to empathise with the other person and look for where their interests align. If people can find common ground, they can build a solution together that works for both. Without trust, this listening and curiosity will not happen nor will they see what ground they have in common.

How do you build trust?

Building trust does take time and when nurtured, it grows over time. A solid first step is getting to know each other and sharing a bit of vulnerable story-telling fast-tracks this experience.

Here’s an approach to help people to get to know each other and build trust:

  • Set aside 2 hours for the team to invest in building team trust.
  • Let the team know that for now, we’re just getting to work on team culture and morale without focusing directly on work issues. The aim is to develop trust and psychological safety because work will be so much more efficient with those in place – this period of time is an investment in creating a team where we can get things done efficiently.
  • Get permission from everyone to set aside work issues and just be present for the team.

Use one of these activities

  • Share some personal stories
    • What was the hardest part of the last year for them?
    • What do they most want out of this job or project?
    • What do they find hardest about teamwork?
  • Ask them what their ‘ideal’ team would look like or what happened in their favourite team in the past.
  • Have people appreciate one another.
  • Pay attention to the mood and team spirit. When it feels like there’s a more convivial atmosphere, then suggest that it’s time to get back to work: let’s take this atmosphere with us.

Create agreements

  • Consider asking questions about what would help them:
    • Feel safe to speak up about what works or doesn’t?
    • Be OK with disagreements?
    • Offer out-of-the-box creative ideas?
  • End this session by building on the vibe created in this meeting:
    • How can we keep this team spirit even if our work is going to be challenging?
    • What other agreements do we need so we can continue to have a safe environment for us to increase trust and psychological safety?

If this is an uncomfortable process for the team leader, you might want to find an external team coach who can facilitate this process.

Team coaching

Team coaching

At shooksvensen, we use team coaching to help teams find their sweet spot of team performance. We start with trust and psychological safety. The outcome is a team culture team that enables everyone to speak up and embrace diverse opinions, leading to more collaboration, innovation and results.

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