How to Build Trust in a Team

As the world of work continues to change post-COVID-19, many organizations are scrambling to regain control and normalcy with teams and employees working in multiple locations. 

Managers are seeking new ways to engage, empower, and motivate their workforce to improve organizational trust and boost productivity as workers settle into new routines.

A company culture of trust makes a huge difference in how workers bounce back, re-engage, and enhance their productivity at work. In trying times, employees want to know that they are valued by their teams. They want their voices to be heard, and they want to trust that the organizations they work for have their best interests at heart. 

Changing conditions like the now-deescalating pandemic make employees feel unsafe and uncertain in their jobs and futures with an employer. An organization that takes measures to assure its people of a continued commitment to their goals and values will see significant benefits compared to one where employees do not know where they stand. 

Why does trust matter at work?

Studies from the Great Place To Work Institute show that companies with high-trust cultures reap greater financial success than those that don't. In a deep dive into the neuroscience of trust in organizational culture, employees in high-trust companies, when compared to those in low-trust environments, report: 

  • 106% more energy at work
  • 76% more engagement
  • 74% less stress
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 40% less burnout overall
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 13% fewer sick days

These gains are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why trust at work matters. A lack of team trust leads to avoidable work conflicts, missed deadlines, collaboration issues, and even marketing and communication mishaps.

With most teams working remotely for the first time, building trust in teams has never been more crucial for the survival and growth of an organization. Trust at work creates a healthy environment to produce consistent quality outputs and increasing returns. 

Understanding the stages of team building

Team building influences how employees relate with each other on and off work grounds. Your organization may be fortunate to attract and recruit high-performing talents, but if you can't get them to work together, it becomes difficult to retain them in the long run. 

Strong teams develop according to patterns and become more prolific and productive over time. Knowing this, managers can guide their teams towards a culture of trust, innovation, and feedback, creating a safe place where workers can grow and contribute ideas without fear or embarrassment.

The following five stages of team building were put together by researcher Bruce Wayne Tuckman and doctoral student Mary Ann Jensen. These stages of team building define a roadmap to building collaborative, high-trust, and high-performing teams. 

Five stages of team building

  1. Forming: Team members are introduced. It's important for managers and team leaders to facilitate this first meeting and highlight each team member's background and experience. Team members may also receive important organizational information, new project details, and the opportunity to ask questions about their work and get to know team members.
  2. Storming: Team members share and listen to ideas as they get to know each other and their roles and positions better. Team leaders and managers can facilitate this stage by organizing team building activities to encourage bonding and competition among team members and break the ice with communication, problem-solving, and creative games. This stage may come with some personality clashes and conflicts as team members try to curry favor for their suggestions, opinions, and perspectives about how to get things done within the team. Members might disagree over how to complete a task or project. It is important to remember that teams experience conflict. Guide team members towards positive outcomes, and keep everyone focused on resolving the goals or tasks at hand. 
  3. Norming: Team members learn to work together. At this stage, each person's goals and responsibilities should be clear. Managers and team leaders must explain the organizational systems and ways of working. This includes processes for communicating project-related issues, solving problems, reviewing and approving work, and synchronizing cross-functional collaboration. 
  4. Performing: Team members collaborate and work together. There are increasing levels of trust and cohesion between team members and teams. Employees are operating at peak efficiency with processes in place and less oversight from managers. Snags, schedule conflicts, and other issues may occur, but team members have strategies for resolving these problems without compromising timelines and project progress.
  5. Adjourning: Team members complete projects and meet to review what went well and what should be improved for future project planning and execution. 

How to build trust in teams as a leader

As a leader, how you go about building trust in teams impacts how members behave. High-trust leaders cultivate trust by setting and communicating clear directives and giving teams what they need to accomplish their tasks.

Low-trust managers take on the added workload of micro-managing their workers to increase productivity and hours logged, eroding trust further. Good team leaders should instead institute clear processes and workflows that enable tasks and projects to get done without redundant check-ins, interruptions, and supervision. 

Here are seven helpful measures, backed by team building science, for leaders and managers to follow to build trust in their teams:

Encourage bonding

Build interpersonal relationships between teams and employees with team building trust activities. This helps to eliminate silos, friendship cliques, and office politics that can inhibit collaboration between teams. Organization-wide bonding strategies, like assigning peer buddies and department mentors, also help to reduce an us vs. them mentality between teams and their managers. 

Maintain consistency

Maintain consistency by ensuring the leadership and management teams do what they said they would do. In cases where a change of plan or tactics is necessary, make sure to keep team members in the know, even going as far as to provide the reasons behind the decisions. This builds a high-trust environment where employees believe in the organization, its mission, and the usefulness of their tasks.

Create processes

Create a clear process for giving and receiving reviews and ensuring remote work accountability to avoid the trap of micro-managing teams and projects. Clear processes clarify requirements, standards, and expected results, so every team member knows what they have to do and when. 

Give praise

Give credit and praise to whom it is due, regardless of their position and role within the team. The neuroscience of trust shows that recognition has the most positive effect when it occurs immediately after a goal is met, when it comes from leaders, and when it's tangible, unexpected, personal, and public. Recognizing excellent performance within your teams uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, keeps progress transparent, and inspires other team members to aim for excellence.

How to Build Trust in Teams 2
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Allow autonomy

Give people discretion in how they complete their tasks. Allowing levels of autonomy in your team gives each employee room to make decisions and take risks within their role to complete tasks and achieve the organization's goals. Once your team members have been through training, give them increasing room to execute projects their way. Trusting your teams to do their jobs motivates and promotes innovation in how they approach their work. 

Communicate often

Share information broadly and transparently. Keep your teams updated on any changes regarding projects they're involved in. Uncertainty about the organization’s direction can lead to stress and burnout, so let your employees know about changes within the company or any of its initiatives. They should hear about them from the leadership team first. Doing this makes ambassadors of your employees — they understand and believe in the mission and actions of the company because they are included. 

Invest in your people

Finally, high-trust workplaces help their teams and members develop holistically. They adopt a growth mindset when developing talent within the organization, creating opportunities for managers and direct reports to meet and discuss the whole-person growth, which includes both a professional and personal focus. Organizations that invest in their people have a higher chance of retaining talent and improving engagement.

So there you have it — seven steps explaining how to build trust in a team. Each step empowers both managers and team members to take more responsibility in their roles, get involved in the organization's activities, and give their best every chance they get. 

Team building trust activities to get things going

Depending on your post-pandemic work arrangement, you have various options for team building trust activities. Your selection would depend on whether your teams work in the office, remotely, or in a hybrid arrangement

Here are a few resources to choose the best team building trust activities for your team: 

How to create a trust-building strategy with Wrike

Building trust in teams brings immense benefits. You want employees to be confident enough to make decisions and take risks that serve the business. You need processes and workflows that support teamwork and external collaboration. You also want to ensure that there's a high level of security in the digital systems and tools you use to accomplish work tasks. 

Wrike enables all these and more by providing a secure source of truth accessible for teams to work and send updates whether in-office, remotely, or in a hybrid environment. 

Create a trust-building strategy by implementing clarity, consistency, and quality review measures with Wrike. Wrike can help build team trust through:

  • Clarity: Outline your organization's main objectives and priorities to align teams on their goals and contributions. Employees work efficiently when they have a clear vision of where the company aims to go and what role they're to play. Wrike provides a central dashboard showing key metrics, notifications, and an activity stream reminding team members of what’s important. Multiple project views, including Gantt charts, show project progress and timelines at a quick glance. 
  • Consistency: Teamwork succeeds when members trust each other to deliver and complement their contributions with excellence and enthusiasm. When there's trust at work, everyone depends on the others to come through with consistent efforts and good results each time. Wrike provides standard and customizable workflows for teams to collaborate and contribute to projects. There are also review and approval functionalities within the software to ensure each team member’s work is up to standard each time. 
  • Communication: Honest, safe, and open communication are essential elements for a high-trust team. When team members know they can reach others easily to handle issues or get answers to questions, there’s more trust and productivity. Wrike provides project-related communication and collaboration features helping to create and execute project work and team trust-building strategies. Encourage better teamwork by inviting collaborators into your Wrike workspace and including them in all project-related conversations and updates.

Get started with a two-week free trial today and discover how to build trust in a team with Wrike.

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