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How to Develop a Culture of Trust Among Your Team Members

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The need for trust in our everyday lives is self evident - in relationships, friendships, and in the dealings we have with professionals (such as doctors, dentists and lawyers) and public services (such as our necessary contacts with law enforcement, city councils and others). It follows therefore that a high trust model of business would be a strong model - and yet this is a relatively unexploited and unexplored model.

If you want to improve the natural levels of trust within your team, the following thoughts may help.

Why does it matter?

Trust is essential to build a high performing team, allowing things to happen more quickly, raising team morale and improving engagement. In the book, ’The Trust Equation’, Stephen M R Covey highlights the importance of trust to successful business people such as Warren Buffett who describes how he was able to close deals quickly based on mutual respect and trust - including purportedly acquiring McLane Distribution, a $23 Million business from Wal-Mart on the strength of a two hour meeting and a handshake. Not only was this quicker and easier than entering months of due diligence negotiation and disclosure, it was also more cost effective for both parties because they worked on a high trust model.

Harness the power of the trust equation

Covey bases his description of trust on a mathematically styled analysis of how trust functions. Trust, he describes, is made up of credibility, reliability and intimacy - and can be undermined by a sense (real or perceived) of self interest. What this means is that being trusted requires you to prove that you have the skills (credibility) to deliver what you are asked, the track history and reputation of doing so (reliability), and the personal relationship with those you deal with to mean they put their faith in you (intimacy).

Develop intimacy

Among Covey’s trust factors, the first are established, well understood and feel intuitive - trust requires you to have the skills to deliver, and to do so reliably when you say you will. Intimacy - in so far as it applies to the work context - tends to cause more confusion. Whilst intimacy feels an uncomfortable word to use in a work context, it is precisely what we need to build with our colleagues through getting to know them well, in order to build the relationships needed for great results.

Understanding your team members as people rather than employees will pay real dividends, and is especially important in team roles and those requiring interaction with customers. If we expect our teams to build relationships with the customers they serve, it is essential they are able to build relationships with each other as well.

Avoid self interest

Covey’s word of warning, however, is that all the above indicators are undermined completely by self interest. This means that you cannot be trusted if the impression you create is that you operate for your own ends - be that helping a colleague with the clear expectation of a favour returned, putting in the extra hours on a project for the sole purpose of securing your own promotion, or complementing another in a way designed to highlight your own achievements also.

By understanding and helping others to understand the trust equation you can help build your own ’emotional bank balance’ of trust, and role model the behaviours you would seek in your own team also.

Empower and delegate

Once you have understood and enacted the messages in the trust equation personally, you can demonstrate your trust of your team by empowering them to make decisions themselves and with proper use of delegation. Empowering your team can be as simple as giving them discretion over certain issues, and assuring them of the trust you have in their ability to decide matters for themselves.

The exact nature of this empowerment will vary from business to business - in a retail business you may empower all colleagues to resolve customer issues which can be solved with relatively low investment, accepting customer returns without quibble if this is the right resolution for the customer, for example, or being able to offer a customer a token of apology if things have gone wrong, such as a bouquet of flowers if a customer has had cause to complain.

Empowerment may mean allowing flexibility within a framework - a bend of the written rules when it is the right thing to do, or may take the form of ’planning with’ your team to ensure they see their ideas and opinions being built into the overall aims and plans for the team.

As manager you own the culture of your team - if you choose to develop a culture of trust you must be consistent and have this aim in mind when dealing with all aspects of your work. Role modelling trust is vital, and at its most impactful when something goes wrong, keeping an ’open door’ to allow proactive discussion within the team, and working shoulder to shoulder demonstrate that you understand, appreciate, and trust your team to deliver.

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