7 Simple Practices for Building Trust in Your Team

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Guest post by Heather Zempel, Author of Big Change, Small Groups

Heather Zempel is the Discipleship Pastor and Campus Ministries Director at National Community Church in Washington, DC. She is the author of several books, including Big Change, Small Groups. She lives on Capitol Hill with her husband, Ryan, and energetic daughter, Sawyer. Heather loves growing as a leader, discipling the next generation, and watching SEC football.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @heatherzempel

How do you win when you’re the underdog?

Well, believe it or not, trust has a lot to do with it.

In You Win in the Locker Room First, Jon Gordon tells the story of the 2014 University of Florida basketball team. Without a single player drafted to the NBA, they surprisingly upset powerhouse programs like the University of Kentucky (beat them three times, to be exact) and went to the Final Four.

Their success was not found in their talent but in the trust they had built in one another as a team and their commitment to play as a team.

Building culture is one of the most significant and critical roles of a leader, and trust is the cornerstone of a healthy culture.

There is no formula for creating it and growing it, but here are a few best practices to move toward a trusting and trustworthy team.

Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy culture - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

1. Remember, trust starts with you

Trust begins and ends with you.

Make sure your words match your actions, you complete your assignments on time, and you admit your shortcomings and failures when they happen.

Be a leader who shines the spotlight brightly on others and absorbs their failures when appropriate.

As a leader, trust begins and ends with you. - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

2. Make sure your values are shared values

It’s easy to impose your values. Wise leaders don’t.

Give everyone on the team an opportunity to share 3 to 5 values that define who they are and how they work.

Some on your team will value flexibility while others value punctuality. Some value excellence while others value experimentation. One person may value efficiency while another values creativity.

Sharing personal values helps teams understand and appreciate their differences. When you share your values as a leader, it helps the team know why and how you tick.

Once people have shared their own personal values, establish a set of values for your team. It gives a point of reference for everyone to work from, be held accountable to, and champion.

As the leader, trust begins and ends with you - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

3. Determine the rules of engagement

Invite the team into a process of defining how you will talk to one another.

Whether in brainstorming mode, assessment situations, planning time, or critique/feedback loops, what postures, tones, and attitudes will characterize your conversations? What words, phrases, and approaches are encouraged? What is discouraged or disallowed?

Establishing rules of engagement brings freedom with healthy boundaries in order to create safe places for constructive conversation.

4. Don’t make all the decisions

Some leaders are naturally wired to make decisions within a team while others need to make decisions alone.

In either case, it’s possible to invite other voices into the process. Sometimes people don’t necessarily need to have their way; they just need to have their way considered.

Create clear and simple pathways for people to contribute to decision-making.

When possible, give the decision-making away.

Sometimes people don’t necessarily need to have their way; they just need to have their way considered. - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

5. Empower the team to go as far as they can go

I don’t know anyone who enjoys being micro-managed.

Once you have entrusted someone with a project, empower them to run as far as they can with it. When you insert your opinions, redirect their progress, or hover over them too much, it erodes trust in the relationship and their abilities.

Give clear guardrails and objectives, and let them loose.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys being micro-managed. Give clear guardrails and objectives, and let them loose. - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

6. Let them fail…safely

Your team won’t always get it right…so let them fail, safely.

Create opportunities for feedback loops during project development and after completion. Sometimes fresh eyes from other teammates can make a good idea a great idea, introduce a new angle of thinking, or allow a mid-process tweak that raises the level of excellence.

It’s about creating opportunities to edit one another’s work.

It builds trust but also requires a tremendous amount of trust.

Some of the most intriguing and groundbreaking works in the art world have emerged from artists who share studio space and give critique and feedback as pieces are being developed. The creating artist has to place tremendous trust in the voice of the critic, while the critiquing artist has to recognize that they may not be able to see the whole vision of the artist.

Nevertheless, those feedback loops, when navigated well, can create better outcomes and continue to build trust amongst the team.

Once a project is completed, it is helpful to have the entire team give feedback on what went well, what you learned, and what you will do differently next time.

Your team won't always get it right...so let them fail, safely. - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

7. Deal with Problems…Now

This is my greatest area of weakness as a leader.

Because I’m wired to see the best in people and driven to maximize their potential, I often allow underdeveloped projects to go public or let underperforming teammates continue on the team for too long.

I have a tendency to sacrifice the good of the team for the sake of the potential of the one.

Addressing incompetence and inconsistency quickly, professionally, and graciously will strengthen the team. - @heatherzempel Click To Tweet

When we don’t address problems quickly, efficiently, and effectively, it erodes the morale and the trust of the rest of the team. Everyone knows when someone is not cutting it, and when a leader ignores it, the team is left to wonder whether the leader is not smart enough to see it or not courageous enough to address it.

Addressing incompetence and inconsistency quickly, professionally, and graciously will strengthen the team.

Finally, give it time. Trust is not built in one meeting, one conversation, or one decision. It is built day by day, conversation by conversation, decision by decision over time. The building of trust is not something we can put on auto-pilot; rather, we have to champion it, guard it, and nurture it throughout the lifespan of the team.

What are your best practices for building trust in your team or organization?

If you want to guide your team into focused conversations about trust, consider these resources:

Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni)

You Win in the Locker Room First (Jon Gordon and Mike Smith)

The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Peter Scazzero)

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When it comes to money conversations with your church, my guess is that you want the outcome (margin in your budget and a generous congregation) without the process (having to raise funds and talk about it).

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Even if you’ve tried other methods without success.

And yes, especially, if you could make a bigger difference by increasing your budget by 20%, 30%, or even 40%.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.