Trustworthiness and Teams

This post was co-authored by Sandy Styer and Noelle Mykolenko.

Trust is paramount to collaboration. In a team setting, we are called on to build trust with multiple people at once. This adds complexity because any action we take to create trust with one person may be closely viewed (and interpreted) by others with whom we are not directly interacting.

Core to of our way of thinking about trustworthiness is the Trust Equation, which describes trustworthiness through the four components of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation. (Take our online Trust Quotient Self-assessment to see your trustworthiness strengths and opportunities.)

Applying the Trust Equation in a Team Setting

Some actions that demonstrate trustworthiness are particularly useful for the complexities of a team setting. Here are four specific ways to build trust and further collaboration in teams:

CREDIBILITY: When the team is first assembled, go beyond the usual organization-focused introductions [“I’m Jane Smith, a SR PM in the RV Division.”] and have each team member say something about what they bring to the group and what they hope the project outcomes will be. We believe in people whom we know something about; resume headlines are a weak form of credibility.

RELIABILITY: Be predictable and dependable in context of the team’s goals and culture. When you turn in a piece of work, refer back to the master schedule and how your piece relates. Adopt team norms and use common language (jargon and acronyms). Be consistent in how you interact with all team members, staying especially alert to actions that could be perceived as special treatment – favorable or unfavorable – based on role or organizational differences.

INTIMACY: When someone starts a call with: “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” really share something: “We had so much fun; my 5 year old daughter played T-ball in the back yard, and she was hilarious whacking at the ball and running around the bases.” We trust those who are willing to take the small personal risk of revealing something about themselves; encourage it through role-modeling and asking open-ended questions that can’t be easily answered by a simple “fine” or “ok.”

This goes for bad news too.  Be open about blocks you’re running into or delays you’re facing. It builds trust to admit something like “I’m struggling to identify the target audience is for this piece, which makes it hard to write.  Could we get consensus on this call?”  Such an admission also may be the best way to get the help you want and deserve.

SELF-ORIENTATION: When you’re with the group, be relentlessly present. Avoid multi-tasking, no matter how pressing your deadlines are or how relevant you think the conversation is to your area. Be equally attuned to opportunities for you to help other team members as you are for how they can contribute to the outcomes for which you are personally responsible.

When we work in teams, it’s easy to over-focus on our own outcomes, and in so doing we sometimes forget that the people with whom we’re working are people, and not just a means to our end.

A Virtual Wrench in the (Team)works

Today, whether it’s due to globalization or a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more of us are working on virtual teams.

When we interact with others face-to-face, we send and receive all kinds of clues and indicators that help us assess trustworthiness, and by which we can show others they can trust us. Casual encounters in the hallway, tone of voice and body language, and small daily experiences all contribute to building trust. Face-to-face is high-bandwidth trust time.

With so much of the world now working in virtual teams, building trust among the members of a team who don’t look one another in the eye or share coffee every morning is an added challenge. See our recent blogpost about building trust in virtual settings.

While there are differences between working face to face in a team and working virtually, the practices in this blog post are effective for either situation. All of them revolve around remembering that we are part of a team that consists of other very real people, individuals in their own right who have contributions to make and goals to achieve.