During a recent chapter event about team development, the speaker, Scott M. Graffius, mentioned something that really resonated with me: you can build trust by honouring commitments. There can be no doubt that it is true, and it got me thinking about the other ways in which we build trust and why it is so fundamentally important to team dynamics and success. Trust is a critical element for self-organised teams and for the traditionally hierarchical ones, it is more important than ever in our current climate with virtual teams trying to collaborate remotely.
A friend mentioned to me some time ago that she feels less trusted by her manager since she’s been working remotely full-time. When she was working in the office, there was no expectation to respond to an email immediately. Yet, when working from home, if she didn’t reply within about 10 minutes, her manager called to check up on her. Do we expect that when working remotely, people should be at their computers and available every minute of the working day? In the office, we accept that people talk to each other, occasionally take coffee breaks or have informal “water-cooler” discussions. We also accept that when somebody is busy on one task, they don’t stop to reply to emails as soon as they arrive; that would be counterproductive. So where does this need to check up come from? There are many possible answers, but most of them have the same root cause: a lack of trust.
Trust can be defined as a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”1. One of the reasons that remote working was less widely accepted before the coronavirus pandemic forced it upon so many of us was this fear that people couldn’t be trusted. Team leaders have asked themselves in the past, how can I tell if someone is actually working if they’re not in the office where I can see that they are? What if they’re looking after the kids / doing the ironing / gardening / sleeping / watching TV? And yet, we know that micromanagement does not lead to high-performing teams. When people are supervised closely and controlled, they take less responsibility and feel less accountable for their actions. On the other hand, when they have autonomy and are trusted to do their jobs, then we tend to see creativity, productivity and resourcefulness increase.
Coming back to that first statement, building trust through honouring commitments is about showing others that you can be trusted; that you are trustworthy. It is a great way to increase confidence between team members and team leaders, whatever that leadership role may be: team manager, project manager, Agile coach, to name just a few. It is a fragile concept in some ways because one slip-up can have major consequences. Let your team members down one time (by not doing what you said you were going to do, for example) and you will find it that much harder to show how trustworthy you are the second time around.
We can also look at building trust from another perspective. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”. Trust builds trust. What if the most impactful commitment you honour is to trust others? By showing others how trustworthy they are in your eyes – how much belief you have in their abilities and reliability – by not controlling, doubting or micromanaging, then your message is clear and unambiguous. When people realise that you trust them, they will naturally and instinctively have trust in you.