Building Team Trust

Trust and communication are critical components of a cohesive and well developed team. In many respects, trust is the cornerstone of any effective working relationship. When trust is eroded, there isn’t much hope a team can advance beyond the status quo.

Earlier this summer we were tasked to develop a half-day session for a group of senior executives of an Alberta crown corporation. We were told that lack of trust was a major factor within the team dynamic and as a result the team was not performing at the level many were expecting.

It sounds simple but it’s amazing how many teams are struggling with trust and communication issues. Over time trust becomes eroded and communication becomes guarded. This is rarely a result of anything malicious and more often a result of undeveloped processes and communication. In some cases there is a specific event that erodes trust but often we find it is a process that happens over a period of months or years. Fallout is typically high turnover, poor performance and increased costs.

Trust can be regained and communication can improve but that doesn’t happen by continuing to do what you do every day. It can be difficult for a leader to admit that his or her team is suffering from trust or communication issues since many would say those are a result of ineffective leadership. However, a good leader steps back and objectively looks at their team.

In the case of the team we worked with, we chose a couple of our high ropes course challenges at the Banff Center. These activities can often draw out potential gaps since they demand trust and good communication. Issues typically surface quickly and discussion can happen in the moment. We always relate things back to the workplace so conversations can focus quickly on what may be holding the team back.

Often times teams just need to experience some level of success. Small victories even outside of work can demonstrate that success is possible at work. Models are easily replicable and scalable to larger projects or departments. We look at our programs as investments in people and teams. This particular team we worked with managed significant capital budgets and literally made million dollar decisions everyday but they forget to invest in their team. It happens a lot.

Sometimes a good team just evolves but most times it needs to be consciously developed. Small investments in team development can go a long way to delivering on larger organizational objectives. A good team recognizes when things aren’t right but an even better team takes the responsibility to make it right.