4 Strategies to Rebuild Trust in the Workplace
David’s management style was confusing the heck out of his team.
Once an on-the-ball leader who directed his service desk clearly and got them all working toward a goal, David’s actions seemed erratic lately. His directions to team members were unclear, and some of the tasks he assigned overlapped two members’ responsibilities in the workplace.
For example, in a recent meeting with Felicia, David gave her two action items regarding recently released service desk software. Just as he gave her the basic information, David’s phone rang and he took the call, motioning to Felicia to leave.
As Felicia walked out she was not completely clear on what she needed to do. This was not unusual for her, or anyone else on the team. David had been giving assignments and then quickly moving on to other tasks. He had not been keeping the team in the loop on what others were doing. When team members talked, they noticed there was moderate overlap in what they were doing, and that was having a negative effect on their overall teamwork.
With this overlap, team members began jockeying for position over the different ways to do things. This was causing tension within the team, and it was getting noticed by David’s senior leaders. Even the CIO had gotten word about what was taking place on David’s team.
The thing is, David had been in his management position for more than five years. His team, once performing well, now seemed to be crumbling right in front of him. What happened?
About three months earlier, the company went through a reorganization, and David took on one full team and part of another in addition to his current team. He went from a team of seven to more than 15 direct reports. While some of the challenges could be attributed to the reorganization and his increased workload, the biggest challenge was now the lack of trust among the team, especially the newer members.
Melding a New Team
Any time there is a significant change in team members, it is critical to recognize that the team moves back to forming, the first stage of building teamwork. This requires the team to develop ground rules and expectations as well as build vulnerability-based trust.
David had high levels of trust with his original team. Many of the newer members felt that they were not really included, thus causing the friction and distrust of each other as well as of David as the team leader.
How many times have you heard of a well-run service desk team being thrown into workplace chaos after an organizational change? It’s a story as old as corporate America: A group of employees and their manager have become a well-oiled, well-performing machine, and suddenly this team receives an influx of new members as other groups are broken up and reassigned to new projects. Stress levels rise for everyone: the new members are trying to figure out their places on the team, while the existing members take on a self-protective attitude, jockeying for a favorable position. Meantime, the manager is suddenly juggling increased responsibilities, trying to get familiar with new people, and managing everyone’s expectations. It doesn’t have to be that way.
While managers can’t always predict how their teams will change over time, especially when companies make organizational changes, they can flex with the changes and use the tools and strategies they already innately have to regroup and strengthen their team.
In David’s case, a chat with his manager made him aware that problems were brewing among his team. The senior manager pointed out the issue and gave him four can’t-miss strategies to rebuild the sense of trust and teamwork in his section.
1. Partner New Team Members with Existing Ones
Pair up members with someone they do not know as well. A couple of times a year, rotate partners. This isn’t just a method to help new members learn the ins and outs of the team process. It makes both new members and older members accountable to one another, and the team as a whole.
2. Schedule an Outside Team Activity
Organize an activity outside the office like a night out for pizza and bowling, an afternoon of paintball, or a similar fun, relaxed activity. It may sound counterintuitive to making a team more productive. In reality, the more team members can connect with each other outside of the workplace, the more engaged they will become as a team at work. That builds overall trust and subsequently a stronger team.
3. Share Personal History
From sharing a photo of their new baby to discussing their lifelong devotion to a professional sports team, team members can build a great deal of trust in each other by sharing personal histories. This kind of conversation opens up team members’ vulnerability, and when everyone becomes vulnerable, trust strengthens.
4. Laugh at Yourself
Don’t be afraid to use self-deprecating humor and laugh at yourself once in a while. Many great comedians have made a career out of directing the laughter at themselves, pointing out their own foibles and flaws. When a leader shows some of their own weaknesses to the team members, reveals some of their misgivings or imperfections, they won’t be laughed at. Rather, their trust factor is bolstered.
Empowered with these strategies, David began to rebuild his team’s workplace cohesion. He held a lunchtime “get to know your fellow team member” gathering at a nearby restaurant, encouraging team members to sit next to members they didn’t know well. He also reorganized the partnering structure, pairing existing team members with new members so they could immediately discuss how to handle various service desk issues as they arose.
Once he recognized the situation that was forming among the newly organized, larger service desk section and put in place strategies to build trust between all the members, David’s team was able to develop a stronger sense of trust, which is the first building block to great team success. That helped to mitigate some of the overlap problems that some members had faced, and with a clearer sense of purpose among all of the team members, David’s assignments made more sense to them and eased the amount of hands-on work he had been doing.
Great organizations emphasize this kind of team-building constantly and augment their efforts by planning employee training and development on a regular basis.
Trust is the foundation to teamwork in the workplace—both with the leader and with peers. Building trust is everyone’s responsibility. As trust is elevated, team and organizational culture is strengthened, employee retention is fortified, and productivity increases.