By Samuel Edwards
When it comes to building a team that can work efficiently together, accomplish mutual goals, and still maintain a good morale while doing so, there's no more significant quality than trust. Trust allows you to delegate a task without worrying whether it will get done. It allows for faster, more open communication, and gives people a sense that they truly belong within your organization.
But trust doesn't come naturally or easily, and it's a leader's job to inspire and facilitate that trust in a team environment. How do the strongest leaders of the business world accomplish this?
1. Patience. First, you need to demonstrate a strong sense of patience. It's tempting to want to rush things as much as possible, especially if your business is new or young, but that level of impetuousness creates an uncomfortable environment for your team. Pressure is good, but too much pressure can make employees feel like they're worthless unless they hit your unrealistic goals. Impatience can also imply that you suffer from a degree of impetuousness, which makes your team doubt your motives, or your capacity to lead a team in the first place. Instead, take your time in your thoughts and actions, and express understanding when things go wrong.
2. Calm. You're going to face some emotionally challenging moments as a leader, and often as a direct result of your team's actions. During these moments, it's essential that you remain as calm as possible. Feel free to express your emotions, even if those emotions are negative (more on that in a moment), but do so in a restrained, stoic manner. The minute you fly off the handle at anything--whether it's a team member or circumstances beyond any of your control, your team will start to see you as unstable. They'll be afraid to come to you with negative information or criticisms, and their trust in their environments will shrink.
3. Transparency. One of the best ways to build trust with others is to show your personal side. If you make yourself vulnerable and express something in confidence to your team, they'll be more or less inclined to reciprocate. Remain as transparent as possible in your actions as a leader, letting your team know what you're thinking, the motivations behind your direction, and any doubts or concerns you may have. Remember, as a leader, you'll be serving as a role model, so the more transparent you are in your actions, the more transparent your team will be in theirs. They'll also learn to see you as a more sympathetic human being, which is indispensable.
4. Openness. To build trust, you'll also need to establish an open environment, where all team members are encouraged to express their thoughts and opinions. You can do this in your team meetings, by asking that everyone bring something to the table. Facilitate conversation by allowing every team member to speak, and make sure all your other team members show respect and listen to each other. This open environment will gradually teach your team that it's okay to voice an opinion.
5. Flexibility. Demonstrating a bit of flexibility in your workplace can also facilitate trust. When workers feel more comfortable in the workplace, they'll treat it almost as a second home, and they'll treat their coworkers a bit like family members. This is significantly trickier to pull off in the context of a large corporation, but smaller companies and startups should have no trouble allowing this flexibility and creating this type of environment. For example, you can allow more time for personal breaks, establish flexible hours or remote work days, or offer negotiable deadlines on certain projects and tasks. This is an implied demonstration of trust to your workers, and again, they'll be likely to reciprocate.
6. Mutual feedback. Feedback is the only way for anything to improve, and it has to work both ways. When you give your workers honest feedback (positive or negative, so long as it's constructive), it shows that you're genuinely invested in their development. When workers give you feedback and you sincerely listen to it (and/or act upon it), they'll feel more empowered, and more secure in their positions. Only by giving and receiving feedback in this way will you be able to generate enough trust to delve into deeper and more controversial forms of feedback.
7. Ongoing team exercises. Team trust is best facilitated through active team engagement, but that doesn't always mean working together on projects and tasks. It could mean conducting teambuilding exercises, or something less formal like having lunch or office gatherings after hours. Your teammates need to get to know each other on a personal level, at least to some degree, if they're going to trust and support one another. Every team member is unique, and they'll need to engage with the group to account for one another's strengths and weaknesses.
These are tactics, dispositions, and characteristics that strong leaders can use to build trust within a team--but don't expect them to be shortcuts. In many cases, these are merely prerequisites, or pre-existing environmental conditions that allow for the development of trust, rather than creating it directly. Trust requires time and experience, as your workers spend more time with one another and become more familiar with their circumstances. Don't try to rush the process, or you'll end up negating your efforts.
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