3 Ways Leaders Build Trust to Increase Employee Engagement

a word map centered around collaboration

Without a foundation of trust and mutual respect, teams avoid healthy conflict, have less accountability, and tend to underperform.

Together, this pushes employees toward disengagement.

A lack of trust undermines a team’s performance…rather than work collaboratively, team members set up silos and work on their own, often at cross purposes and certainly less efficiently. They don’t share information, they may get into disputes over roles and responsibilities, and they don’t cooperate. Any potential synergies or economies of scale are lost.

No matter how talented individual team members may be, a team without foundational trust will never reach its full potential. Rather than working together to achieve team goals, individuals are likely to work on protecting themselves and their own interests. Instead you want a trusting environment where employees feel safe to communicate openly, feel comfortable with one another and take reasonable risks in order to learn, grow and perform.

Some years ago our team at LSA embarked on an Outward Bound California outdoor experiential team building program. What started as a fun way to hang out together, quickly turned into salient lessons about trust, problem solving, communication, decision making and leadership. To succeed at our challenges, members had to really trust one another to walk through the obstacles safely and to cooperate in understanding and meeting the goals of the exercises. Though overall we did well, our debrief of the program exposed some weaknesses in our team dynamic. Some members realized they did not fully trust others. They learned that their micro-managing was a sign of doubt that teammates had the skills and the will to do the job “right.” Back at the workplace, we resolved to work on these issues. It was apparent in a very short time how much more efficiently we were able to get things done when trust was increased “just a little bit.” Productivity improved as did engagement. We all were striving together toward a common goal with higher levels of mutual trust as our foundation.

Can you fix a team that is suffering from a lack of trust? Yes, if the team leader is truly committed to improving the team environment. Here is how to begin based upon three employee engagement training best practices:

  1. Set the example
    Clearly define and agree upon goals, roles, responsibilities, processes and success metrics. Ensure full understanding of and commitment to expectations and then let the team work to fulfill them without your hovering. Show your trust in their abilities by allowing them to make small mistakes so they learn and grow from them. The best leaders choose the right players and then trust them to do their job well while “having their back.”
  2. Show you care
    Get to know your team as individuals. Learn what makes them tick and what excites them about life and the job. What do they like to do when they are not at work? Be authentically curious and listen well. Your genuine interest in both their personal and professional lives will help connect you and build links of trust while you help them to achieve their personal and professional aspirations.
  3. Show your competence
    This does not mean that you show your power. Instead it is more about being humble. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. Ask for help from your teammates when you need it. Always treat them fairly and with honesty. Share as much information about the business’ plan for the future. This is the way to show that you value their contribution and that you trust them to act in the best interests of the team and the organization.

Benchmark your employee engagement practices now

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