As a leader, it can be easy to miss the fact that your team is struggling to build trust with one another. There can be a lot going well: high quality work, goals met, etc. But you may start to notice that your team just doesn’t feel like a team.
This lack of trust can manifest in different ways like:
A lack of vulnerability: The team may not share things about their personal lives or not go into much detail. They may not talk about things going wrong with their work or with the team.
The absence of conflict: The team may not feel safe to disagree with one another or with the team leader. They may only share disagreements 1:1 or in private.
For more symptoms, check out Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
And for teammates that don’t yet trust each other, it can be a difficult, unhappy experience. I once worked on a team that had all the strikes against us: we had a leader who kept us in the dark about what was happening at the company, we had unclear and shifting expectations for our team’s work, and there was a complete lack of resources to actually get the work done.
And as a result, our working relationships were almost non-existent. That meant we didn’t feel safe asking one another for help, we couldn’t open up about how we were feeling, and we ended up competing with each other instead of collaborating.
We didn’t trust each other, and our work and happiness suffered.
Critically, this situation wasn’t a failure of the team but rather a failure of leadership. It’s a leader’s most important responsibility to build trust on a team. Without trust, a team can’t collaborate and can’t achieve their goals.
The importance of trust on teams
The reason trust matters it that trust is closely linked to team performance, especially when the team is engaged in interdependent tasks common to cross-functional teams.
Trust is even more important for teams that are coming up with novel solutions or innovative products because trust creates a collaborative environment that enhances a team’s ability to be creative.
Going beyond just performance, trust is a key component in friendship — and friendship is strong predictor of engagement at work. Not to mention, the need for connection with other people is almost on par with our need for food and shelter.
And while building trust on a team does require intention, it doesn’t have to mean huge behavioral shifts or expensive team off-sites. Instead, you can do small activities with your team each day that build trust over time.
Building trust on a daily basis
As a leader, building trust on a team is about setting the right conditions for teammates to connect and build relationships with one another.
Team off-sites and activities are one way to do this, but they often take place only once a quarter or even once a year. And that makes it harder for the team to maintain the effects. Annual company retreats are a great example of this — the team often comes back feeling motivated, energized, and highly connected to one another. But within a few weeks, most of the team will be back to their normal day-to-day and will have lost touch with that sense of connection.
At my company, Range, this is why we think about how we can integrate trust-building activities into our daily workflow.
Small, daily trust-building is powerful because it’s easy for a team to do, which means we can consistently make time for it and prioritize it. And, it’s connected to the work, which means that it doesn’t feel like a distraction, but instead directly impacts our ability to work together.
How you can build trust on your team
Daily trust building doesn’t have to be heavyweight, and at Range, it isn’t. We do two things every day:
Answer a team building question. A team building question can cover information about yourself, which helps to humanize you to one another. For example, “What was you favorite class in high school?” Team questions can also focus on how you work together, which helps start conversations about how you work. For example, “How do you prefer to communicate?” Answering a question takes just few minutes and can even be done asynchronously. If you’re short on ideas, Plucky created cards to help.
Daily emotional check in. As part of using Range’s product (of course we dog food our own product 🐶), we choose an emoji each to day that represents our mood. This sounds simple, but we’ve found it lowers the weight of talking about emotions and how we’re doing. It also gives the rest of the team permission to ask how someone is doing or to offer help. You can also accomplish this by adding a check in round to your morning standup or sharing an emoji over Slack.
I hope these tips help you to build trust on your team starting tomorrow. And we’d love to hear from you — what daily activities do you do on your team to build trust? If you’re curious to learn more about a tool that makes trust-building easy, check out what we’re building at Range.