Five Questions to Ask Yourself to Build Team Trust and Confidence

Think of the best boss with whom you’ve had the privilege of working. What made them so special? What impact did their words, behaviors and beliefs have on you? I bet they made you feel heard, valued, respected, and seen.

For me, I remember walking into an interview with my new manager at an educational start-up. It was the first time a manager was asking questions about me and really wanting to know who I was as a person and what I was bringing into work with me—the good, the bad and the ugly! In doing so, it allowed greater behavior flexibility on the part of my manager and led to a greater feeling of autonomy, respect and accountability.

When it comes to work, we all want to be part of a team that we can trust and be confident in. But what does it take to build that kind of team? What qualities do you, as a leader, need to cultivate in yourself and others?

The Best Managers Create Trust and Confidence

Outside Angle’s Universal Framework for Manager Development outlines five essential skills every manager needs.

There are a number of factors that contribute to forming a team that is trustworthy and confident. They include cultivating authenticity and autonomy, transparency, self-awareness, and as Edgar Schein and Peter A. Schein state, personization. These conditions together create a safe and inclusive workspace in which people can be honest with themselves, and direct with others.

Not too long ago, I wrote with Katie Kozel about the five essential skills every manager needs. While all five skills matter, it’s my belief that the Trust and Confidence competency is the starting point for effective management. Here are five self-reflective questions that can help you create the conditions for high levels of team trust and confidence.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself

1. In what ways am I enabling autonomy and accountability within my team?

In organizations with high levels of trust, we see employees taking action independently. Management communicates clear expectations and employees are given space to achieve their goals. On the other hand, micromanagement creates and indicates an environment of low trust. Executive autonomy—with the appropriate accountability—generates motivation, confidence, and enthusiasm in employees, and demonstrates that management depends on their competence and commitment.

To build comfort and confidence in independence, assign small but manageable tasks in new areas, allow employees to develop their skills, and don’t feel like you need to have all the answers. Taking action without direct supervision or interaction with management will improve individuals’ problem-solving and trust-building skills. Of course, you must hold them accountable for these opportunities. Knowing you can trust your team and your teammates comes in part from their performance. Make sure appreciation and recognition are part of your company culture so employees are motivated to meet and exceed expectations.

2. How does my team like to receive appreciation and recognition?

Just like Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages demonstrates various ways in which people want to feel and be shown love, appreciation and recognition in the workplace are also personal to the individual. Part of building trust and confidence with your team is ensuring you are lifting them up and highlighting their work to others, and letting them know they are doing a great job.

How often do you spend time prepping for a hard conversation? Oftentimes, managers will allocate time to plan for these types of conversations, but rarely do they allocate time to prepare for recognition conversations. By understanding how your team (as a whole and as individuals) receives appreciation, you can tailor your delivery so they fully receive what you are saying. Taking the time to do so increases the positive return from the interaction.

3. In what ways do I create a safe and inclusive workspace for myself and others?

In practice, this looks like allowing employees to be themselves at work, and helping ensure the team sees each other as individual human beings, versus just titles and roles. Interactions are personized, not transactional. Care is taken to ensure team members feel comfortable sharing ideas and participating without fear of being silenced or rejected, and showing up as their full authentic self. Maintaining standards of respect and support helps employees feel welcome and psychologically safe in the workplace. Use inclusive and caring language and show appreciation for sharing different opinions. Respond promptly to inappropriate communications so that they are not perceived as acceptable.

4. How self-aware am I and how do I handle feedback?

Self-aware leaders are constantly looking at ways to improve. By investing time and energy in understanding your own strengths, growth areas and internal biases, leaders build confidence and credibility. Champion the belief of continuous growth and improvement, and create ways to seek out feedback and demonstrate ongoing growth and development. At Outside Angle, we practice the process of 360-degree feedback to give all of us regular practice with the experience of handling feedback.

While having formal opportunities for feedback is good, it’s also important to ensure open lines of communication exist at all times. Are your team members able to be honest with you about issues or concerns? How do you know? If you’re not sure, start by proactively communicating areas where you recognize a need to grow personally and make visible how you are working on strengthening a particular area. Doing so will allow for more honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity.

5. How well do I know my team and in what ways do I share my full self with them?

Healthy working relationships require clear, consistent, honest and open communication, which in itself is a key to cultivating and repairing trust. Credibility and transparency are critical to effective leadership. Authenticity, even if it means vulnerability, is comforting. Learn to communicate sincerely, but with empathy. Be sure to listen and respond so that the other person feels heard, understood, and valued.

In what ways do you build in personal and professional check-ins during 1:1s or team meetings? What space do you create for gaining perspectives of your team outside of work? As Schein and Schein state in their book Humble Leadership, “Personization is the intrinsically reciprocal interactive process where you see a person as a whole, not just in the role that they may occupy in the moment.”

Get Started on Improving Team Trust and Confidence

I encourage you to give these questions a try. Journal for yourself, or perhaps buddy up with a colleague and together go through the exercise of answering these questions for yourselves. You might even give yourself a simple rating like “doing great,” “good but room to grow,” and “personal challenge area.” Finally, pick an area or two to focus on in the coming months as you work to develop team trust and confidence.

Trust and confidence are built continuously; you can\’t wait until the annual performance review cycle or until an emergency to start working on trust. In fact, building trust and confidence within your team and organization is an ongoing process that the best leaders keep top of mind in regular meetings, check-ins, and communications. With ambiguity and uncertainty being the norm in so many modern workplaces, they are more essential than ever, and especially important for employee mental health, performance and satisfaction.

Managers can get a lot of other things right, but if this piece is missed, most of the rest won’t matter. So make it a part of your management practice to pause and reflect on how well you are building trust and confidence within your team. Hopefully these questions can help.