Building trust with your team

Mar 12, 2023

It’s critical to take the time to develop your trust-building skills. You, your teams, and the projects you are all working on together will only benefit.

Over the years, I’ve observed many managers and superintendents as they lead, manage, and run their projects and jobsites. I’ve noticed that the individuals who can build trust with their teams and trade partners seem to have projects that make more money, finish on time, and have less rework.

By studying the formula that makes these individuals successful, I’ve realized that there are two basic types of trust that they excel at building:

  • Applied trust. This is built and earned through hard work. Individuals who show up on time, put in real effort, and do what they say earn credibility with the people in the office and the field, and this trust allows the team members to rely on their competence and dependability. They know and trust that the leader can get the job done. Applied trust is a must, and leaders who don’t have it experience duplication of work, missed deadlines, and poor productivity.
  • Emotional trust. This is a notch above applied trust. Emotional trust is when you know someone has your back, feel your work is respected, and that you are respected as a person. Emotional trust allows for honest thoughts to be shared with vulnerability around feelings and ideas, and there’s healthy conflict when things get tough. This type of trust is more than just hard work and meeting commitments; it requires a certain level of emotional intelligence.

So, how can you build these kinds of trust and benefit from this leadership style?

  • Be honest – every time. Being honest could be considered the foundation of trust. There are many reasons why people are not honest with themselves or others. From trying to make yourself look better or avoiding embarrassment, these traits, unfortunately, do exist in the workplace. Leaders who are truthful and transparent about scheduled milestones, are honest when they don’t know the answer to a question, and do not keep others in the dark on crucial issues set the tone for building trust.
    Honest leaders:
    • Keep their word and commitment.
    • Tell it like it is rather than sugarcoating an issue.
    • Are upfront if they have a personal bias.
    • Take responsibility when they make mistakes.
    • Don’t lie or overcompensate for their shortcomings.
  • Information is power – share it. Many leaders want to hold all the cards and protect critical information. This provides a sense of control over the entire office or jobsite. They worry that, if others have the same information, they might be excluded from decisions – or that they won’t like the decisions others will make without them. This behavior kills teamwork and trust and makes the company or project completely reliant upon that lone leader.
    The more individuals are involved in sharing information, the better the opportunity for deeper trust and unity between people – which will allow more opportunities for these professionals to interact. When these interactions occur, the people involved become more familiar with each other. This facilitates an openness to share even more information, decreasing potential conflicts and bringing better ideas to the surface.
  • Communicate – openly and often. Transparent, candid, and frequent communication is a key ingredient to trust-building. The best way to do this in your business or on your project is with a daily huddle where teams get in the habit of collaborating and keeping one another aligned by answering the following questions:
  1. What are you working on?
  2. Where are you working?
  3. What are your constraints/needs?
  4. How many people/workers are involved (or on-site)?
  5. What material deliveries are coming up (if at a jobsite)?
  6. What are the upcoming project milestones?
  • By asking these six questions, you’re engaging teams and allowing them to work in partnership and coordinate with others. This achieves buy-in and accountability and allows for a more reliable workflow.
    Ensuring that a project meets the schedule is a primary goal – and when the heat is on, it can be easy to ride people to perform. However, leaders who are best at building trust see their team as people and have compassion for them. The best way to understand this is to remember that everyone is dealing with some stress or pain. Sometimes we won’t know what those things are – you might be surprised how significant some of these stressors are and how well people hide them.
    Next, think about what you might be able to do to help that person. Ways you can show your people you care about them include:
  • Having empathy. Try to imagine or connect with what this person is (or might be) experiencing: What is causing them stress or anxiety? What could be weighing on them? Be cognizant of what they may be going through.
  • Practicing patience and kindness. Give everyone some grace and room to be human. We can all try to be more transparent and vulnerable in our interactions.
  • Being proactive. See if you can solve a problem for someone before it gets worse. Look for ways to smooth the path someone is walking on.
  • Ask for feedback and then use it. Fostering a culture of continuous improvement with your team sets a tone of positivity and encouragement, and there is no better way to do this than to ask for feedback. One way to do this is to make a “Plus/Delta” part of your meetings. Ask the team for feedback at the end of a huddle or coordination meeting. A plus would be what brought value and how it can be repeated; a delta would be what the team can change to add more value.
    Asking for feedback can also be a one-on-one conversation. Leaders who do this well ask:
  • How can I help you?
  • What isn’t working right in your area?
  • In what ways can communication be improved?
  • How can I support you and make you more effective?
  • What can I do differently next time that will be more helpful?
  • The clincher is to make sure you’re using the feedback you’ve received. If you ask for feedback and then dismiss it, people will lose trust that you care about what they have said – and feedback will stop being offered.
  • Share credit – and blame. If you’ve ever worked with a leader who takes all the credit when things are going well – but will quickly place blame on others when things go wrong – then you know how quickly that creates distrust.
    Leaders who possess both applied and emotional trust don’t do this. When a project succeeds, or a milestone is hit, they give credit to the team and call out champions for their contributions. On the other hand, when a milestone or project goal falls short, they accept responsibility for the team instead of blaming individual people or other firms. When people see success or failure as something created by the entire team, they are more likely to have trust.

Remember, practice makes perfect. This way of thinking and deliberate approach to interacting with people can take time to acclimate to – this is doubly difficult when under stress. But it’s critical to take the time to develop your trust-building skills. You, your teams, and the projects you are all working on together will only benefit. 

Keyan Zandy is CEO of Skiles Group. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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