When something goes seriously wrong, it’s often announced by subtle signals.
The two of us are living proof of how important it is to listen and act on those signals. At different points, we each found ourselves feeling a little bit off physically—nothing specific, just a sense that we weren’t up to speed. After diagnostic tests, we heard the same diagnosis: “You have cancer.”
Caught early, our illnesses were treatable. But had we ignored those signs until they became more blatant, our stories would have had very different outcomes.
One of the most damaging conditions to the health and effectiveness of teams is low trust. Like cancer, it initially produces signs that are subtle, yet dangerous to ignore: people hold back, meeting after the meeting, players left out of decisions. Collaboration doesn’t gel, team members trudge through the status quo, and engagement slips.
As with cancer, early recognition and treatment are critical.
Are you like many leaders who see signs of low trust in your teams and are looking for ways to address it? You can initiate three stages to turn teams around from low to high trust.
Stage one: assess trust
Take an honest look at how team behaviors contribute to trust. Teams value trust, but often forget their behavior builds it.
Tap into internal or external support to give you an objective gauge of trust. Consider using a survey tool that validly measures trust to get a baseline of where your team’s trust stands.
- Probe for deeper understanding. Talk to members about their experiences of trust. Listen to what has been difficult and why.
- Pay attention to everyday dynamics, which get in the way of trust. Do team members give feedback with the intention to help? When a deadline is missed, do they take collective responsibility or criticize and blame others? Are they clear about what is expected, and do what they say they will do? Do they bring issues directly to the individual involved, or gossip about it to everyone else?
This stage will require you to take a courageous, holistic look at team behaviors that erode trust. You will create awareness and prepare people to leverage opportunities.
Stage two: address trust
Openly discuss the results from the assessment of trust.Advertisement
Work with your team to pinpoint two to three trust-related behaviors which, when strengthened, will make a difference.
- Bring the team tools to help them leverage those opportunities. If there is gossip, help your team learn how to work through issues. If people feel left out of decisions, invite their input. If members are reluctant to take risks, make it safe to admit and learn from mistakes.
- Equip your team with a language to discuss trust regularly. Model the transparency and open communication you wish to see. Make trust behaviors a part of everyday work.
Stage three: assimilate trust
With discipline, high-trust behaviors become the norm on your team. Do not take trust for granted. Sustaining it requires constant effort.
Encourage authentic dialogue around needs, uncertainties, and vulnerabilities.
Ensure clear expectations, roles and responsibilities, decision-making, and agreements are standard practice.
Address subtle signs telling you trust might be vulnerable the moment you see them. Be willing to wade into ambiguity and areas of difficulty. Doing so will help your team address concerns before they become problems.
Case in point
Through these stages, leaders have experienced dramatic turnarounds.
A manufacturing plant went from the lowest to the highest producer of a 12-plant network in 18 months.
- Engagement scores in a global financial services organization improved by 25 percent in nine months
- An insurance company’s bogged-down $30 million initiative moved ahead of schedule.
As part of our cancer treatments, we became more attentive to things like healthier nutrition, appropriate exercise, and managing stress. Those changes, practiced with discipline, have brought us to a state of stronger health than we’d had before we became ill.
Imagine your team in a state of vitality. When members need support they ask for and receive it. They step up with energy, new ideas, take risks, and share responsibility — not only for what they do, but also for how they do it. Confidence and commitment abounds.
If that image seems far from reality, maybe it’s time to take the first step toward high team trust.