A team isn’t really a team until trust is built. Without trust, a team is a collection of players that are working to perform their own role to the best of their ability, hopefully. A team, however, delivers more than just the sum of its parts.
The only way trust happens on its own is when the leader has an extremely clear mission that everyone buys into and when the team is made up of extremely humble and competent people. Without some intentional intervention, even this combination requires time for it to work. Employee engagement increases and so does the potential for trust, but it’s a long process. Today’s teams don’t have the luxury of time and even fewer have clearly focused missions. However, there are practical ways to build trust in a team.
What Does Trust On A Team Look Like?
Trust is when team members apologize to one another and admit mistakes. Trust is when team members acknowledge each other’s ideas as better than their own. A team can trust when they can fight it out over an idea and everyone understands the conflict is a pursuit of truth, not a personal ego war. For trust to exist, there must be no pride, no ego and no fear. In other words, trust looks a lot like competent humility.
How Do You Build Trust In A Team?
Trust isn’t going to be formed while doing an escape room or a rope course. No trust fall exercise is going to make your team perform better over the long term. In order for the trust to built in a team, the team has to know where everyone is coming from. In order to build trust, you have to defeat trust’s number 1 enemy, the FAE (fundamental attribution error).
Fundamental Attribution Error
Remember the last time you got cut off in traffic? Isn’t it amazing how many evil jerks are out there driving around on the highways when you’re trying to improve society by getting to work on time? The fact that you and I judge a driver that did something you didn’t like and attributed it to their character vs their situation is an example of FAE.
OK, I’ll admit that FAE just looked more ominous than the fundamental attribution error, but even as mundane as the words look, they are deadly to a team. The fundamental attribution error is simply when we judge other’s bad behavior through our lens of what we think about that person’s personality, character or skill versus what the situation was. This is deadly because we judge others much more harshly than we want ourselves to be judged. This creates a personal perceptual imbalance on the team. When we make mistakes, there is always a good reason or good intent. When other’s make mistakes it’s because they are wrong. Over time you work with a bunch of jerks who just don’t get you.
Defeating FAE and Building Trust
In order to build trust and beat FAE (I’m just going to run with it), you are going to do some pretty hokey but necessary things. The two most powerful exercises in building trust is telling your story and validating your personality profile.
Telling Your Story
In order for trust to be built the team needs to know where each person comes from. I’m not talking about a rote retelling of your life history, but more about the challenges you faced. I want to know how you overcame those challenges and/or if you’re still dealing with them. This exercise requires vulnerability and humility. Those two words are the essential piece of the trust puzzle.
A practical question might be, “Tell me about a challenge you faced during your childhood and how you overcame it (or how it affected you).” In a team setting, the leader should go first. By going first the leader can set the tone for how vulnerable the team needs to be during this exercise. It’s not enough to just answer and move on. Your team should ask questions, encourage and find out more about each person (if appropriate).
Whether it’s the DISC, Meyers-Briggs or the Enneagram, learning about your personality has become a staple of onboarding for a lot of great organizations. The problem is that they miss the opportunity to build trust by validating the results with the individual. When a team comes together to discuss personalities (or behavioral profiles) and how each interacts it builds trust.
At it’s worst, personality profiles put people into a box. However, if done right this is a wonderful life-changing-trust-building excercise. However, remember, it’s not an assignment of a box but rather the unpacking of the box that builds trust.
What happens during these profiling sessions can be life-giving. The process of “validation” is simply finding out what the team member discovered as their personality type and asking what they learned about themselves. To build trust you take that one step further and let the team dig deeper on this subject. When done with humility and vulnerability (those two keys again) amazing things begin to happen.
An evil perfectionist becomes a coach that is helping others be better versions of themselves. A direct and brutish department head becomes a surprising champion for the team. Even the quiet thinker opens up with an analysis that no one thought of. The incompetent clown of a salesperson becomes a radiant source of encouragement at every meeting.
Building trust is something that every successful team must do and it’s unlikely for it to happen on its own. However, if your team endeavors to be intentional about learning about where each other comes from you will go a long way to building trust.