The new president of the company came in with grandiose visions of the future. She saw the untapped potential of the organization and set a vision for increasing revenues by ten fold. She preached her message of change with catchy slogans to create excitement and instituted sweeping changes by bringing in people outside the organization whom she trusted to lead key initiatives.
She was large and in charge, but she forgot the one critical thing that would determine her ultimate success. She forgot to build trust with her team, and it was that lack of trust that resulted in her ouster just a few years later.
Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t “just happen” by accident. It takes intentional effort and leaders need to have a specific game plan to establish and nurture trust in relationships.
The primary goal of any leader stepping in to lead a new team should be to build trust. Here are 10 easy ways leaders can get started:
1. Refrain from making bold proclamations — You probably have big goals for your new team and that’s likely why you were hired for the job. That’s great! But before you start proclaiming your vision for the future, spend time developing relationships with your new team members. Some of them may not know you from Adam. Some may be excited about you joining the team and others may be fearful. Be humble, exercise patience, and establish trust with your team before making bold proclamations. If your team trusts you, they’ll be much more receptive to hearing and acting on your message.
2. Ask open-ended questions — Dial down the temptation to start barking orders or making evaluations about current practices and ask open-ended questions instead. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former comes from an attitude of inquisitiveness and wanting to learn, whereas the latter comes from a position of evaluation and judgment. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.
3. Ask other people for their ideas — Chances are you have some pretty smart team members who know the business quite well. They probably have excellent insight into how things could work better, where the gaps are, and what could be done to improve the business. So ask them. Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions and trust will flourish.
4. Approach your role as a learner — You will develop trust much faster with your team if you approach this transition as a learner rather than acting like you’re a know-it-all. What attitudes do learner’s have? They are humble because they know they don’t know everything. They are open to new ideas, taking direction, and appreciative of others who are willing to share their expertise. Those are the same characteristics you should have when stepping in to lead a new team.
5. Go slow with changes — Practically every leader I’ve met has wanted to implement change quickly. And my experience has shown that effective change takes much longer to implement than we estimate or prefer it to take. So plan your schedule accordingly. Understand that your team is getting to know and trust you, and once that happens, they will be more receptive to the changes you want to implement. If you try to implement too much change before the team trusts you, they will resist and work against you rather than with you.
6. Respect the culture — Every organization and team has its own unique culture, and as the new person to the team, you need to be purposeful about learning the new culture and becoming part of it. A big no-no is to compare your new team or organization to your old one. When you keep bringing up your old company and make statements like “we did it this way” or “we should do it like my old team,” it makes your team question your loyalty. Using the pronoun “we” makes your team feel like a part of you is still with the old team. You’re not with your old team anymore so quit talking about them. When you need to reference your past experience, use the pronoun “I”—I’ve had experience doing it like this and it worked well—and it will go over better with your team.
7. Be nice — It sounds silly that this even has to be mentioned but you’d be surprised at how many leaders miss this obvious way to build trust. Just be nice. Say please and thank you. Smile at people. Ask them how they’re doing. Build rapport. It’s the little things that go a long way in building trust.
8. Catch people doing something right — When I do training sessions with clients I often ask the group this question: “How many people are sick and tired of their boss praising them at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is people don’t get enough pats on the back for their achievements on the job. It doesn’t cost much—except time and effort—for leaders to praise team members, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust.
9. Laugh at yourself — Humor is a fantastic antidote to many of the ills of the day-to-day stress of organizational life. Well timed and appropriate humor keeps the mood light, lifts people’s spirits, and eases tension. Leaders who are not only humorous, but are vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves, have a leg up when it comes to building trust. People trust others whom they like and know. Humor breaks down barriers between people and allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level.
10. Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one party is willing to assume a little risk and extend trust to the other. I believe it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a powerful signal to your team members and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.
I said earlier that these were “easy” ways to develop trust. Let me qualify that statement. Some of these ways are easier than others, and depending on your personality, some may be quite difficult for you. However, they are all eminently do-able. They just take intentional effort, and if you follow through and try some of these, you’ll find trust will start to blossom with your new team.
Feel free to leave a comment with other strategies or suggestions to build trust with a new team. I’d love to hear your thoughts!