As We Lead, Build Trust

Pat Ross

Trust is one of the most binary emotions we have. Do you trust me? Do I trust you? If that answer is anything other than yes or no, we are probably fooling ourselves. Trust is earned. It is an emotional, sometimes irrational, truly instinctual feeling — it is experienced, sometimes with joy and often with pain. It will last a lifetime when two people build a bond forged in overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

A colleague recently asked me “How do you know your team will succeed?” I replied frankly. “I do not know, though I trust they will give it everything they have.” That is part of the contract of being part of a team. We do not know if everyone will rise to the occasion or fall back to their training, though we do know, because we are a team, that we will push ourselves to the limit because there is someone next to us depending on us. That is the baseline for building trust.

It does not matter who is right. 

If I counted how many bad decisions I made as a leader, it would be easy to sulk and throw in the towel. We hunt as a pack. Someone is always on the lookout and someone is always focused on keeping the team together. We’re looking for the best outcome, not who is right or wrong. Regardless of the call, having trust cuts out unnecessary communications and idle talk and allows teammates to rapidly recover when a plan goes sideways.

We have two ears and one mouth.

When was the last time we actually listened to a teammate and truly tried to understand their viewpoint and how they felt? Let’s be real — work is personal. There’s no reason to be defensive, interrupt, or cross our arms when a teammates is passionate about a differing viewpoint. The comfort level we feel to share our perspective is a sign of trust, and it should be valued.

Trust keeps the team shoulder to shoulder.

Sometimes, everything goes to shit. On whom to you depend? I mean, on whom do you truly depend? When you’re up against the wall and the enemy (could be a deadline or an overwhelming task) is closing in on you, who will be there without hesitation and more than likely with a smile on their face and some snarky defiant commentary? What are the qualities that person exhibits? My suspicion is unceasing loyalty, uncompromising integrity, and a shit ton of grit and determination.

Tactics I’ve tried this past year:

A few weeks after writing the section above this, it occurred to me, I left a gap in my perspective on building trust. How do you build trust in the absence of a monumental challenge, a massive natural disaster or at the minimum, sweat? Here are three tactics I have tried to use to foster trust in the office and behind the screen.

1. Share your performance review with your team. When we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we can cover for each other and know to whom to turn when we need some added brainpower. It also makes it easier for everyone, regardless of level, to offer candid and critical feedback because we can reference where we know we need to improve. As a colleague of mine said to me recently, “Remember, even though you lead the team, you are still part of the team.”

2. Share the team concept and invite each member to be part of its evolution. We have not yet made individual user guides, though given our team reputation as human robots (which is amusing but far from the truth — we actually enjoy hugs, emotions, and the human experience.), we’ll add it to our product backlog.

3. Avoid asking for status updates. Asking the “Where are we with…” can easily start to sounds like “Are we there yet?” In the military, we can remember being consumed with situation reports but we were also trusted when we would send “Nothing significant to report.” If we establish clear communication expectations and desired outcomes, we can showcase trust by daring to restrain the impulse to ask for updates especially during high intensity or high visibility events. Allow each other to brief when we have the time and information, until then, rest assured, each teammates is focused on their specific task at hand and will call for support when it is needed.

If you’re someone who goes all in and stands by your team when everything is going sideways, Team Rubicon has a spot for you

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