Fixing trust in a team isn’t easy

I really struggle when people ask me what to do if their teammates don’t trust them. Why? Because the word trust is one of the bigger, messier, and less helpful words we use in teams.  But, teamwork is messy, so I can’t let that stop me.  Here’s how I respond when someone is trying to repair trust with a teammate.

Figure out what they mean when they say trust.  Are we talking about very basic ideas like whether or not they feel they know you, or whether they think you are competent?  Or are we into issues of your reliability or even your integrity?  It makes a big difference in how you solve the problem, so best to ask some good open ended questions and start listening.

Depending on what you learn, you will need different tactics to repair trust.

Fix trust at the level of connection.

If the issue is that the person doesn’t really know you nor have much experience with you, then you need to find ways to connect.  Share something about yourself, your background, or what you’re passionate about.  Ask similar questions of them.  Find ways to share informal time over food—breaking bread together is a very primal way of building trust.

Fix trust at the level of competence.

If the trust issue relates to perceptions of your knowledge or credibility, then you need to help build their confidence in you.  Fight the urge to talk more or to defend your credentials.  Strange as it might seem, your credibility will go up if you ask good questions and zip it!  Demonstrate your know what you’re talking about by asking insightful questions and show your willingness to hear and understand…that will do more for your credibility than reciting your extensive resume.

Fix trust at the level of reliability.

If trust has eroded because you haven’t followed through on commitments, you need to do two things. First, make sure that expectations were clear and that they were shared.  If you thought you were committing something different than what they thought, clear the air.  If you really just didn’t deliver, apologize for any negative impact your failure to follow through caused for them.  Then, next time you’ll need to reduce the stress by using frequent milestones and build their confidence by delivering on them.

Fix trust at the level of integrity.

If trust between you and a teammate is broken at the level of your values or your ethics, it’s going to be a long climb back.  You will need to play a big role in taking ownership of what you did that destroyed trust in the first place.  You will certainly need to explain your behavior and might even need to apologize publicly.  And all of that will only get you another chance to prove you are trustworthy with your words and, more importantly, your actions.

If you don’t trust your teammates or they don’t trust you, your team is going nowhere.  Stop, figure out where in the hierarchy things broke down, then take action to set things right.  It might be a little uncomfortable, but showing that you take these issues seriously will only make you more trustworthy!

Further Reading

The Surprising Source of Most Trust Issues

Counter-Intuitive Advice on Building Trust

Be Proactive in Building your Trust in Others