As someone who speaks at leadership conferences to help leaders understand how to identify and maintain trust, I often get requested about what team building exercises...
When talking to business leaders about building trust, one of the questions I get asked is how do you build trust quickly in a newly formed team when time is short?
And it’s a valid point. After all, a study by Towers Watson found that it takes seven months to build trust with people (and half that time to lose it). Although, you’d think it would be overnight if you did something extreme such as accidentally publishing a nude photo of yourself on social media or absconded with company funds.
In today’s fast-paced business world, we often don’t have the luxury of time to decide whether someone is trustworthy or build trust with individual team members, direct reports, colleagues or other unit leaders. Teams must be put together quickly, decisions made and deadlines met.
Even when we do have time, we are so caught up in our own deadlines, that we miss out on important opportunities to connect with others and cultivate trust leadership.
But what I’ve found is that most leaders do little to increase trust, not because they don’t want to, but because they aren’t sure where to start. Or if they do attempt to fix it, they waste time and headspace focusing on the wrong trust elements. So how can a busy leader more efficiently build trust?
The Trust Formula
When we don’t trust someone it’s because we believe at a deep emotional level that they have the capacity to hurt us. Fear is a lack of trust. If you’re leading a newly formed team, you need to encourage people to believe that you have their best interests at heart. And you can’t do this by saying “you can trust me on this!” (and was it just me, or did other people feel waves of revulsion at that remark?)
The part of the brain responsible for feelings such as trust and loyalty has no capacity for language. That’s why just talking about improving trust with others doesn’t work as we process whether we can trust someone through our emotions. We don’t trust others by what they say, it’s how they make us feel. It’s their consistent actions that show that they care about our well-being that determine whether we feel we can or cannot trust them. That’s why when people tell us to trust them, we instantly feel slight disgust intermingled with disbelief.
According to neuroscience, if you want to get people to trust you quickly, you need to focus on three factors that the brain requires to perform well at work.
1. Creating Psychological Safety
In the workplace, employees need to see and feel evidence that their workplaces are safe and that their fellow co-workers are looking out for them. More importantly, workers need to trust that their boss and colleagues really care.
What people need to thrive in their jobs is psychological safety. They want to work in an organisation where they can be themselves, speak up about any concerns and that if they make a mistake they won’t be criticised. They know they can work the extra mile and their effort will be noticed. This feeling of psychological safety enables employees to become more emotionally invested in the organisation they work in. It means they’re more likely to work harder and be engaged in their work.
According to Google, psychological safety is by far the most important out of all the dynamics they measured in a high-performance team.
To build trust quickly, you need to focus on creating a safe space for people to bring their best selves to work. Do this by acknowledging every team member through eye contact in meetings, inviting each person to speak, expressing gratitude and rewarding excellence. While on a one to one basis, you can ask people questions to empower individuals such as “What would you do if you had my role?” and “I need help with this. I’ve heard you’re the person who knows what to do. What would you suggest?”
2. Focusing on Impact
When people have clear direction, understand the meaning of their role and how it contributes to the success of the organisation, they feel as though their contribution matters. Their work inspires them to get out of bed each morning excited to go to work.
Essentially, people love their job, if it matters if they show up to work because their work makes a difference.
When employees understand their overall role in the business 91% will work towards that success, but the number plummets to 23% if they don’t (Bill Quirke, Melcrum).
As a leader, it’s vital that you reduce uncertainty by letting people know where the company is headed and why. When employees feel that communication is ambiguous or they don’t understand what is expected of them, they fall into fear and low trust.
To improve this, clearly communicate accountability structures, set clear expectations and align employees with a mutual purpose. Ensure that you align individual’s self-interest to the greater impact of the organisation. Once people are clear on what is expected of them, make sure that you let them know how their performance is positively impacting those around them.
Where possible, encourage employees to meet with others in the company or customers who actually benefit from their work. When employees discover how their work positively impacts others it becomes highly motivating. This also strengthens people’s sense of belongingness and connection. According to a study from Adam Grant at Wharton School, it even improves productivity by 6%.
3. Reinforce Connection
We are biologically wired to want to be with other people. Having a sense of connection to those around us improves our well-being. Yet, we often receive conflicting messages at work that we need to focus on tasks and not waste time making friends.
Neuroscience experiments show that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves. Those that have high trust levels at work have more meaningful relationships and feel both secure in and loyal to their group. They also know they have support when they need it.
Furthermore, we trust people who are similar to ourselves. You can unite people together, no matter how different they are, by aligning them to the company purpose or a really compelling goal.
Give teams time to socialise and talk about things that are non-task related. Sponsor lunches, activities and after-work parties.
Using The Trust Formula
Creating psychological safety, focusing on impact and reinforcing connection are three ways leaders can quickly improve trust in a group to give everyone the right environment for them to thrive. Touch on all these three factors to improve trust in all your conversations – whether in meetings or one on one discussions. And if you want to go deeper, you can find out about 7 Trust Behaviours of Effective Leaders.
Ultimately, you cultivate trust by ensuring people feel valued for who they are, understand how their work positively impacts those around them and through providing the right people and resources to see it through. Then, all you need to do is step back, get out of the way and watch the magic unfold.