How to Build Trust on a Team

The importance of trust
Trust is the confident reliance in the character, abilities, and actions of others. When you trust someone, you believe she will behave in a certain way based on both your personal feelings about her and the available evidence.
So trust has both an emotional and an intellectual component. Your general feelings about someone, your comfort level with the way he behaves, and your intuition about his character all affect your decision to trust.

  • The emotional component of trust becomes obvious when trust is broken. Few emotions are stronger than the feeling of being betrayed.
  • The intellectual part of trust involves logically assessing both the situation and the person you're trusting. You decide to trust someone partly based on actual data, such as past actions, past performance, or qualifications.

Distrust is a natural reaction to a lack of this sort of information. If you don't know a person or his intentions, and if his way of doing things seems odd or even bizarre to you, you may be reluctant to give him your trust.
To keep your team from developing a trust-deficient atmosphere, you need to apply strategies for building trust. But trust can be difficult to achieve in a team situation. To trust someone else, you must relinquish some control of your own destiny, putting control in someone else's hands and making yourself vulnerable.
When you trust, you not only count on your teammates to get the job done, you rely on them to do so in ways you approve of. This experience of trusting others is what binds team members together. Once trust has been given and shown to be justified, the relationship is strengthened and the sense of belonging to a team is enhanced. Only then will the team be able to have an open exchange of ideas and the freedom to take appropriate risks.
It becomes even harder to trust when you're in a virtual team situation, because trust is based on being able to understand and predict the behavior of your teammates. In a multicultural virtual team, differences in customs, speech, and etiquette – combined with a lack of face-to-face interaction – make trusting all the more challenging.
In any relationship, trust is a vital element that takes time to develop and yet no time at all to lose. Once lost, trust is difficult to regain. While it may have taken only a single untrustworthy act for trust to disappear, it may take years of trustworthy behavior to regain even a fraction of the former relationship. Think of the emotionally charged words associated with breach of trust – traitor, deserter, cheat, liar, informant, and spy.
Ways to build trust
To build trust, the other basic elements for team cohesiveness – good communication and cooperation – need to be present. One way of summing up what's needed is the "Be a STAR" method of building trust, which divides the necessary behaviors into four action areas:

  • The S in STAR stands for being supportive of your teammates and loyal to your team as a group. When you demonstrate team loyalty, you help create an intimate, friendly, and supportive atmosphere where creativity can flourish and people feel safe being themselves. To build trust, recognize your teammates' accomplishments and give credit where it's due. Show you value their input and believe them to be competent. Show you trust your fellow team members by involving them, helping them learn new skills, giving them responsibility, and letting them make decisions for themselves. Team members should never bad-mouth one another behind their backs.
  • The T in STAR stands for being truthful, which applied broadly means you must be trustworthy in your communications. Your teammates know they can rely on you when you say what you mean and mean what you say. They'll share information with you when you're known as someone who gives and receives constructive feedback, admits mistakes, and maintains confidentiality.
  • The A in STAR represents being accountable. Trust grows when team members admit and take responsibility for their mistakes. The point isn't to get down on yourself, but rather take an honest look at what went wrong and move ahead based on what you've learned. This kind of behavior shows that you're someone who can be relied upon, rather than someone who will try to shift the blame to someone else. You need to perceive everyone's mistakes, including your own, as team mistakes. Share the responsibility for everyone's actions and address problems together, as a team. Being accountable sets the tone for communication trust. It creates an environment where team members feel good about taking necessary risks.
  • The R in STAR stands for being reliable. When trying to build trust on a team, you need to demonstrate to your teammates that they can rely on you to be consistent in matters both large and small. Predictability builds trust, while unpredictability makes people nervous. When team members are sure what your response will be, they'll trust you more. Demonstrate your reliability by following through on commitments and "walking the talk."

Trust is at the very foundation of team effectiveness. It's vital for a team to have an atmosphere where people feel comfortable taking action, putting forth ideas, and taking the right sort of risks. Losing your teammates' trust is easy. It can happen with a single untrustworthy act. Building trust, on the other hand, is hard work. And regaining it after it's been lost is even more difficult. One way to build trust on your team is through the "Be a STAR" approach. This method focuses on supporting your teammates, being truthful with them, being accountable for actions as a team, and acting in a consistent way that your teammates can rely on.