A client recently made a comment that I hear all the time. “We haven’t worked together long enough to trust each other.” We can’t afford the luxury of years of shared experience before teams are high performing. So what’s to be done to reduce the time to trust?
Here are a few guidelines.
The most obvious and most difficult approach is to trust your new teammates even without evidence of their trustworthiness. Assume that there will be rubs and differences of opinion and view them as natural and healthy steps in building a working relationship. Don’t attribute early conflict to the individual’s traits; just think of it as a price of teamwork. You’ll already feel more trusting when you anticipate friction instead of dreading it.
Knowing a little about the human beings you’re working with is really helpful. You can’t afford to learn these things over months of down time or on business trips like in olden days. So why not take a tip out of the modern playbook and speed date your teammates? Try getting answers to these questions and see how it enlightens your view of them.
- Where were you born and in what places have you lived?
- Who has been the greatest inspiration in your life?
- What is your favorite book?
- What is the perfect way to spend a weekend?
I’ve seen truly fascinating things emerge when teammates know even this very basic information about each other.
Be more explicit than normal:
With a long-standing team, you know each other’s perspectives and habits. Maybe you can even finish one another’s sentences. On a new team, you can’t. So you’re going to have to talk about what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking it (outside voice). Don’t be afraid to say “I think my concern with this approach comes from getting burned with a similar approach when I was in the finance department. Here’s what happened then. How can we make this situation different?” That’s a whole lot more productive than just keeping quiet or shutting down an idea without providing context.
Have more milestones:
When you have confidence in someone, you can ask them to do something and expect to get a good outcome, on time, without following up. If you’re new into a team, don’t let the stakes get that high. If something is going to go wrong, you want to know before the deadline. Use more frequent touch points and check ins when you’re on a new team. If you leave it until it’s too late, you might have reason not to trust your teammate. Try spending a few minutes at the start of a project to make sure you’re aligned. Then, meet after a day or two of work to talk about how things are going. Meet again before the deadline while there’s still time to change anything that needs to be changed. It might seem a little slower, but it will actually save you time and foster trust.
Be quicker to ask questions and express concern:
The other secret with a new team is to make your constructive comments high frequency and low impact. The problem is that’s the opposite of how most people play things on a new team. Many take a wait and see attitude only to let things get to the point where they are really concerned. If that concern becomes obvious, it starts a vicious cycle where mistrust from one person gets reflected by the other. Instead of letting things get out of hand, communicate early and often about what you’re thinking. Ideally, use questions to show that you’re interested in working toward a solution. “I see you’re thinking about using social media for this campaign. That wouldn’t have been my first approach. Tell me how you’re thinking about this.”
I’ve met teams where most of the members have been working together for five years or more. They have been there for each other through triumphs and tribulations—both at work and personally. That kind of shared experience can’t be manufactured in a two-day team building session. But being deliberate about where your team is at and providing some commentary on what you’re thinking (and why) will help accelerate team relationships and reduce the time to trust.