How to build teams based on trust

Trust is the foundation of any successful team. It’s the glue that holds us together, the solid ground on which we build our relationships and achieve our goals.

As a leader in middle management, you likely know how crucial trust is for your team’s success, but how do you build it? How do you grow it?

Why exactly is trust so important? When we build walls instead of bridges, we create a toxic environment that hinders our progress and stifles our creativity.

On the other hand, when we fully trust each other, we create a space where innovation and creativity can unfold in a safe environment. We can rely on each other, support each other and achieve great things together.

Exploring distrust to trust

The leader in the first cartoon is looking at a vast stone wall. He is trapped in a cage, feeling like a prisoner while holding the keys to escape. On the other side of the wall, the team wonders about the barrier between them and what is going on in the leader’s mind. What prevents him from engaging with them? From the leader’s perspective, he is convinced he cannot trust this team. He even doubts if he can trust himself.

Various thoughts appear in his mind. ‘Most of the people in my team are lazy, and some need help to perform their tasks. They never, ever do what I want and need from them. If I were not here, nothing would work, and we would not get anything done to the quality I am looking for.

What do they think about me? I am sure they want to get rid of me, and as soon as I turn my back, they take the easy route rather than the route I have in mind, which is the best one.’ His thoughts go on and on like a bad movie, examining all worst-case scenarios in detail.

These beliefs are probably wrong, and they’re definitely blocking and harming the leader from getting the best from his people. After all, none of us knows what is really going on in the minds of others; most of the time, we don’t even know the truth behind our behaviours and stories.

In this space of distrust, we risk hindering collaboration and avoiding creativity. Keep in mind that we have only one life. It’s our choice whether we trust or distrust.

What does a team built on trust look like?

Let’s have a look now at another cartoon.

The team in this cartoon is co-creating. Everyone in the team is full of energy, inspired and motivated. There are no hidden assumptions, no hidden agendas. They fully trust each other. We can see in this second cartoon what happens in a trustful environment.

The team members are having fun. They observe and solve problems together, removing obstacles that are hindering progress even when something unexpected or unintended occurs. They believe their colleagues have the best intentions to contribute and add value to the team. This team will easily attract new talent.

With this belief and trust in one another in mind, team members naturally communicate in a supportive way, asking each other:

  • How can we help each other?
  • How can we solve this issue together?
  • What is needed?
  • Do we need to clarify our direction?
  • Is there any expertise on the team that can benefit us?

Here, we are far away from a blame culture. No matter what happens, even when we face many changes, transformations and demands, trust gives us the grounding and foundation to act in an inspiring team atmosphere.

How can you build a team based on trust?

A valuable takeaway for leaders from these pictures is the different impacts of trusting or distrusting our teams. Take a moment to look once again at both cartoons.

Where do you see yourself in terms of trust? What is your conclusion?

As you probably know, trust doesn’t grow overnight; it requires attention. It takes time and effort to develop, so taking a deeper look at what it means can be valuable. 

This is an adapted extract of “Team Rhythm” by Iris Clermont.

Iris Clermont is an Executive coach, author and professional mathematician. She holds certifications from Team Coaching International and Conversational Intelligence, and a Professional Accreditation from the International Coaching Federation.

Iris’ mission is to motivate teams to work effectively and be solution-orientated and creative, while having fun and gaining energy from their business life for their private life and vice versa. With experience in a range of business consultancy and coaching roles, she has been living her passion over the last three decades in twenty countries worldwide.