Last month, we responded to the first part of “Hopeful in Houston’s” question below. Today, we respond to the second part.

Dear Drs. Graham and McDonald:

I joined a new company in September 2020, becoming the manager of a team that has worked from home since I arrived. I’ve never met any of my team members in person. They’ve been polite to me, but I can tell they don’t trust me yet – even after almost six months as their leader. Individual members of the team are highly skilled and incredibly bright, but they have been through some tough times and are suspicious and highly critical of each other.

This team has a ton of potential, but they can’t fulfill that potential until they learn to work together. My question for you two is, how can I overcome their skepticism of me? And, how can I encourage them to trust each other?

Hopeful in Houston

Dear Hopeful,

We hope last month’s suggestions about overcoming your new team’s skepticism of you were helpful. This month we’re answering your second question about how to encourage your team to trust one another.

To begin rebuilding trust, it is crucial to identify and understand exactly where trust has broken down. We like the Brené Brown’s BRAVING Trust Inventory for just this purpose; it is the perfect tool for digging deeper into trust issues.

Here is a brief outline of the BRAVING acronym:

  • Boundaries: Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay — and why — in terms that others can understand.
  • Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. You know your limitations, and you don’t over-promise. You balance competing priorities.
  • Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
  • Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. Your team needs to know that their confidences are kept AND that you are not sharing any information about other people that should be confidential.
  • Integrity: You choose what is right over what is fast or easy. You practice your values through your outward behaviors.
  • Non-judgment: You can ask for what you need. Others can ask questions and ask you for what they need without judgment or fear of judgment.
  • Generosity: You make the most generous assumptions possible when interpreting others’ behavior. You assume people are trying to do the right thing and that they are doing the best they can do. This requires clear boundaries so that people know what is ok and not ok.

Working through the BRAVING Trust inventory gives you and your team a way to talk about how to develop, maintain, and repair trust as you are learning to work together. For example, it allows anyone on the team to say “Team, we have really struggled with reliability (getting everyone’s task list done on time) and with accountability (producing the desired level of quality). Let’s figure out what is getting in the way and how to address it.” Or to be able to say “I am really having a hard time with you sharing my ideas in meetings when I am not there. Can we talk about this?”

Drilling down to the elements of trust that need to be addressed is far more effective than making a blanket statement such as, “I don’t trust you…you don’t get the job done,” or “I don’t trust you to go to meetings without me.” (Let’s be honest: accusing someone of being untrustworthy rarely leads to a productive conversation.) The inventory also gives you specific information about where you and the team need to shore things up in order to build more trust over time.

Finally, as the leader, you need to be sure to recognize when team members are engaging in trustworthy behaviors . . . and when they are not. For instance, when someone has demonstrated reliability, be sure to let them know how much this is appreciated, and make sure you affirm that individual in front of the team. Conversely, if there are behaviors that you see (your own or others) that are negatively impacting trust, it is up to you to address these in a proactive way.

If you’d like to learn more about Brené Brown’s tools for courageous leaders, sign up now for our April 21 and 22 Dare to Lead™ workshop.

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