All of the best researchers today tell us something we already know — the more we trust each other and can be true to ourselves, the better we’ll be able to work together. We’ll also be happier, more creative, less stressed, and achieve greater outcomes.
Building trust in the workplace is something everyone can do, but more often than not, creating a Deep Trust and High Expectations™ culture starts with organizational leaders. Research from MIT Sloan Management Review shows that employees who trust their employers are 260% more motivated to work and 50% less likely to search for other work opportunities.
If you’re looking for new ways to foster trust within your organization, we have you covered. Here are some team-building strategies and trust-building questions you can leverage to bring out the best in your people.
Trust-Building Questions for Leaders to Ask Themselves
Building trust in teams starts with us as individuals. Regardless of your role on the team, you have an opportunity to set the tone and lead by example. And if you manage a team, you have more than an opportunity, you have a responsibility. Ask yourself these questions and think about whether you’re creating a culture of trust on your team:
- Have I created effective working relationships with each person on our team?
- Do I invest time and encourage others to make the time to get to know each other?
- Do I communicate effectively and in a respectful, open, honest, and solution-focused way?
- Do I tell the truth and follow through?
- Do I communicate expectations, articulate how my people can contribute, and give feedback?
- Do I show kindness, empathy, and compassion for each member of the team?
- Do I share, challenges, ask for help, and learn from others? Do I encourage others to do the same?
- Do I encourage team members to express differing opinions and perspectives?
- Have I set sharing different ideas as an expectation, recognized it as very positive when it happens, and reinforced that it will make all of our thinking better?
- Do I feel trusted and valued?
- How do I show that I trust and value others on the team? Do I consider the background, abilities, and interests of my team members when planning work?
- Do I have any policies or habits that are eroding the trust on my team and need to change?
- Have I worked with the team to determine what “trust” and “authenticity” mean and look like for our specific team?
- Do I consider how my/my team’s decisions will impact other areas of the organization?
- Do meetings, systems, and workflows I facilitate meaningfully move the work forward?
- Do I have my finger on the pulse of the work and our team?
Trust-Building Questions for Leaders to Ask Their Teams
For leaders, the questions you ask your team are equally as important as the questions you ask yourself. By asking the right questions and listening deeply to your team’s responses, you can facilitate the conversations that are necessary to build human connections, engagement, and — eventually — trust.
Below, we’ve shared a few question themes to get you started.
- Have you recently experienced a roadblock at work that was caused by poor communication? If so, what adjustments to our communication dynamics would you make to have avoided the issue?
- Do you feel our team communicates proactively and effectively? Is information and knowledge shared openly across the team?
- What are the communication tools you use most often? What tools do you seldom use?
- Do you find that our weekly/monthly/daily huddles are an effective method of communication? If not, what changes would you recommend?
- How do you currently prioritize your different communication channels (emails, direct messages, etc.)?
- How often do you experience “overwhelm” due to overcommunication?
- Have I effectively communicated the “big picture” to you and how it ties into your work?
- How can I adjust my communication approach to fit your preferences or needs?
- How do you prefer to receive feedback? Does our current feedback system align with how you best make use of the feedback you receive?
- Do you feel that you have appropriate channels to provide feedback on my performance?
- Think of the best feedback you’ve received at work. What about this advice made it resonate so strongly with you?
- How comfortable are you giving feedback to your peers, managers, and other colleagues?
- As a whole, do you feel that our organization is too critical or too soft with the feedback we give one another?
- How have recent organizational changes affected you and your work?
- Do you feel our team adapts quickly to changing circumstances?
- Are there any pieces of our change initiative that I can clarify or make clearer for you?
- Do you feel that there are areas where you need extra support to navigate this change successfully?
- As your manager, what could I do differently to better support and communicate change to you and the rest of our team?
- How have you responded to times of change in the past? What resources helped guide you through these situations?
- What new opportunities brought on by this change initiative that excite you most?
- How do you feel the rest of the team has processed this change? Are there steps you or I can take to help guide people into this new chapter of our organization?
For more ideas, take a look at our conversation starter questions during times of change.
Motivation and Burnout
- Think of your typical day at work. What tasks energize you the most? What tasks are the most challenging?
- How has your workload been recently?
- Do you currently use any strategies to deal with work-related stress? What steps do you take in your day-to-day to mitigate burnout?
- Are there factors in your personal life that are contributing to work burnout?
- Do you feel that you are effectively able to manage your time and projects in a healthy way?
- Do you have short- or long-term work goals that you are motivated to achieve?
- Do you feel appreciated for your work?
- What type of recognition (all-hands shout-outs, personal messages, etc.) make you feel most appreciated?
- How can I better support and guide your career development so that your motivations align with the work you do?
- Do you feel that you can make a greater impact on the organization because you are a part of this team?
Other Strategies for Leaders to Strengthen Trust at Work
A question is just the start of a conversation — and the first step to strengthening trust. Here are a few strategies you can use to level up your relationships with your people and encourage a high-trust culture.
Build Trust in the Work Itself
So much of the trust we build at work starts with the actual, day-to-day work. Employees who believe in the work they do and feel supported by their supervisors are often those who place the most trust in their leaders and the organization as a whole.
Building trust in the work doesn’t come without effort, however, and will require you to adopt a leadership style that cultivates trust within each project your team embarks upon. Here are some essential pieces to consider in your greater leadership philosophy:
- Take a situational approach to leadership. Teams — and the people who comprise them — are dynamic in how they tackle their work, and your leadership style should be equally adaptive. In other words, the feedback you provide your team on their work should be catered to the particular individual and their particular task. The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model provides an effective framework for leaders seeking to modify their leadership techniques according to the behaviors and maturity levels of their people.
- Acknowledge employee growth and future learning opportunities. Although we can’t always control mistakes at work, we can manage our reactions to them. As a leader, your response to your team’s missteps can either build or erode your employees’ trust in their work. Start by creating work environments where your team feels emboldened to identify shortcomings without fear of backlash. Then, work on reframing mistakes as learning opportunities, which will give your team room to grow and help prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future.
- Set high expectations. It might not appear immediately intuitive, but clearly defining and communicating the outcomes you want to see can prove to your people that you trust them to deliver the best results. Empowered by your faith in their work, high expectations help individual contributors deliver high-quality work that aligns with specific task requirements and the broader, overarching goals of the organization. Our culture assessment playbook can help you cultivate Deep Trust and High Expectations™ work environments.
Get To Know Each Other
Trust is built through authentic relationships. How do you do that as part of your work? Talk with one another, learn about each other’s motivations, work, and communication styles. This does not mean that everyone needs to be an “open book” and share intimate details of their lives. We all have a different comfort level, so you don’t want to push people or make them uncomfortable.
- Check-in. Build time into meetings to check in and see how people are doing.
- Enjoy down time. Encourage and schedule team lunches or happy hours.
- Spark quick ways to share. Have fun/light “conversation cards” around the office to spark impromptu conversations (e.g., What was your favorite game at recess in elementary school? What act would you want to do in a circus? If you had a superpower, what would it be?).
- Learn about styles and strengths. Leverage a personality profile tool (e.g., Insights Discovery, Strengths Finder) that highlights each individual’s strengths, potential weaknesses, value to the team, communication preferences, management style, etc. Ask people to share elements of their “report.”
- Share key information. Provide a template – like a life map activity – that provides prompts to respond to, and then invite each person to share with the team. Some great prompts focus on core values, what’s important to you, biggest learnings, and where you want to learn and grow. Leave it up to each person to decide what and how much they want to share
Have an Honest Conversation
Talk about trust, effective relationships, and authenticity as a team to build a common understanding and definitions about what great working relationships actually look like in your team on a daily basis.
- Make a list together. What does authentic mean in your team? What does trust mean in your team? What does it NOT mean? What does it look like in action?
- Develop operating norms. These serve to reinforce the culture of trust and authenticity the team wants to create. Team conversations around those norms help raise what’s important to people in terms of interactions, boundaries, what respect looks like, how to deal with conflict, and how to support one another.
Last Thoughts: Deep Trust Leads to High Performance
Both inside and outside of work, building trust starts with building relationships. Leaders who take the time to build relationships with their people are also the ones best positioned to create teams that are aligned on outcomes, motivated by a deep-trust culture, and dedicated to achieving peak performance.
Want more on building effective teams? Check out our eBook: The Secret to High-Performing Teams: Understanding When (And How) To Invest In Your Team