Four Ways Great Leaders Create Trust with Teams

In a world of constant change, where most work environments are now of the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) variety, the role of leaders is evolving. Rather than being central sources of vision and knowledge, leaders must increasingly become conveners, facilitators, and power grantors who leverage their teams to gather the insights that will drive their organizations forward.

To do any of these roles well depends on the presence of strong relationships within teams and across divisions. Further, strong relationships of any kind all trade one one essential currency: trust.

Our team at Outside Angle works with teams of all sizes, across all sectors on building strong leadership and management teams. We always start in the same place—building or repairing trust—because even the healthiest teams must shore up their trust to move forward effectively together. It’s why “Trust and Confidence” is the first of five essential management skills we coach teams around using our Universal Framework for Manager Development.

Four Concrete Strategies for Fostering Trust

Here are four activities we use regularly to surface broken trust and make progress in forging the foundation for relationships strong enough to endure change.

360 Feedback

So many of us are simply bad at feedback. We don’t want to give it because, we tell ourselves, we will hurt someone’s feelings. But the reality is that we don’t want to make ourselves feel uncomfortable.

While we think it’s essential to build capacity for hard conversations, there is a way around the feedback block: 360 feedback. This process involves providing feedback to individuals from multiple perspectives, including peers, subordinates, and supervisors. By creating fifteen-minute one-on-one sessions with a few minutes of scaffolded preparation, leaders can facilitate open and constructive conversations. It is helpful to provide a framework that emphasizes treating each other with dignity, providing a common language, and basic guidance.

Through 360 feedback, team members can gain valuable insights, improve self-awareness, and strengthen relationships.

Relationship Check-ins

The second trust-building activity that we leverage in our work with change leaders is the relationship check-in. In fact, we encourage every diad within a leadership team to hold relationship check-ins periodically and to adopt them as part of the team’s way of working.

These short one-on-one sessions can be built into pre-scheduled work check-ins, but focus less on performance-related feedback and more on unpacking ways that two people can work better together and boost team performance. By using a set of prompts and allowing a few minutes of preparation, leaders can create a safe space for open communication and collaboration.

Relationship check-ins help build trust, improve teamwork, and enhance overall performance within the organization.

Shared Experiences

Shared experiences are another powerful strategy for strengthening relationships within an organization. These experiences can take various forms, such as fun challenges, outings, or social events.

By organizing activities that encourage team members to bond, have fun, and build connections, leaders create an environment where trust and relationships can flourish. Shared experiences foster a sense of camaraderie, break down barriers, and create a supportive and collaborative culture within the organization. We work with several organizations that schedule annual or twice-yearly retreats where the workload is light, but the social connection is intentional. These organizations have the strongest employee engagement of any we encounter.

Personal Journey Sharing

Our team developed the concept of a “personal journey” when we noticed that people often recite their resumes when asked about themselves in professional settings. While credibility is valuable, it often falls short in helping people share their humanity with one another.

A personal journey activity allows team members to share their stories from the perspective of what they value most and what they believe made them into the people they are today, enabling others to see them as individual human beings rather than just roles on the org chart. This activity helps colleagues find common ground, better understand each other, and build empathy.

Personal journey work can range from incorporating thoughtful icebreaker prompts in regular check-in meetings to facilitating deeper exercises embedded in team retreats. By providing opportunities for team members to share their strengths, influences, and personal experiences, leaders can foster deeper connection and trust within the organization.

Trust Needs Help

Building strong, trusting relationships within an organization is essential for its success, but it doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, there are more threats than enablers to trust in most workplaces today.

Strong relationships lead to improved communication, increased flexibility, and far more effective navigation of change. As a leader, prioritize these activities in your regular meeting cycles to deepen trust and relationships within your organization and build a solid foundation for whatever the future may hold.