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3 Ways Leaders Can Promote Trust Among Their Team

By John Rampton, founder of Palo Alto, California-based Calendar, a company helping your calendar be much more productive.

There’s a lot of debate about trust. Is it given or earned? Is it lost forever when violated, or can it be rebuilt? Can any relationship thrive without it?

That last one is easy to answer. You don’t have to get into philosophical debates about trust to recognize that it’s critical to any successful relationship. Teams that work at peak performance need it. In fact, some would say it’s one of the top characteristics of great teams.

If that’s true, then leaders need to invest the time, energy and resources necessary to build trust among the members of their team. That support can foster teams that produce results for brands time and time again. Here are three exercises you can use to do that.

1. Play Games With A Purpose

Team trust involves a combination of elements, including honesty, reliability, vulnerability, competence and collaboration. Collectively, these sound pretty heavy, which is why playing games can lighten things up while achieving the intended outcome.

Try playing a clean version of “Never Have I Ever,” providing some work-appropriate prompts ahead of time. For example, “Never have I ever worn pajama pants during a Zoom meeting” or “Never have I ever pilfered someone else’s lunch in the break room.” This game can’t be played without laughter as team members learn new—and often unexpected—things about each other.

You can also employ classic board games, like Candyland (with candy) or Clue. Draw lots for seeds and set up a tournament bracket to play during a retreat or over a series of Friday afternoons. You’ll get a glimpse of every team member’s strategy skills, competitiveness and sense of humor.

The extroverts on your team won’t have any problem enjoying these trust exercises. But make sure you give any introverts on the team plenty of advance notice so they can prepare. Trust isn’t all fun and games, but building it can be.

2. Share Pet Projects

Getting to know people you work with on a personal level almost always strengthens a team. Members feel valued if others take an interest in their families, hobbies and interests, not just what they contribute at work. This needs to be reciprocal. Employees value their co-workers taking an interest in their personal lives, but they need to feel safe letting their colleagues into that space.

A team-building exercise that allows members to share what they’re passionate about is one way to build that trust. Most members are accustomed to taking turns updating the rest of the team on progress they’ve made on work projects. Use that same format to let them inform the team about their pet projects and keep them updated on a periodic basis.

Those who may not have a pet project to share can talk about things they would like to do if they had the time, resources or opportunity. Maybe they would love to go back to school, learn to use certain tools for DIY projects or take a dream vacation.

Discussing pet projects and aspirational ones doesn’t just shed a light on the personal passions of team members; it also gives them a chance to encourage each other and to solve problems or remove barriers. Your CMO may own the circular saw your marketing intern needs for his bookshelf project—and she may even be willing to teach him how to use it. Nothing builds trust like engagement and knowing others are ready to help when it’s needed.

3. Listen Actively For Discontent

You need a full set of communication skills to lead a team. Listening is a communication tool vital to building trust, yet it’s one that’s often overlooked and underutilized.

To promote team trust, you need to give voice to what’s not being said as much as reinforce what is. For example, watch for the one head that isn’t nodding in agreement during a team meeting or the face that isn’t smiling. That person may lack the confidence to speak up, perhaps because they don’t trust others to listen.

Without calling the person out, take a moment and back up. Throw out some alternatives to the point that set all those nodding heads in motion. Launch a discussion about what you might be missing in a project or perspectives you might not have considered. Ask everyone to weigh in and encourage the discontented to participate. You never know what issues you might discover and what problems you might solve in the process.

Active listening isn’t just a skill for team leaders. If you do it effectively and with consistency, you can teach team members how to do it as well. If everyone is listening for the unspoken, members can develop the trust they need to speak up.

An Exercise In Trust

Trust-building exercises are always a little challenging. But that’s especially true now, when many teams are working remotely or in hybrid arrangements.

Each of these three exercises can be done remotely if necessary, and if you have off-site workers, they should be. The first way to squash team trust is by leaving someone out.

Take the time to work on building trust among your team members. It’s worth it even when it calls for thinking both inside and outside the board game box.

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