Four Types of Trust to Empower Teams


I regularly facilitate workshops where I discuss different leadership and team-related topics. One of the topics is delegation and empowerment of teams. A team has more knowledge, experience, and problem-solving capabilities than you as a leader. Therefore, delegating decisions and tasks to the team is essential for your organization. Delegating is difficult for many people, including myself, and I still believe sometimes that doing it myself will give faster results and better results. I know; please don’t give me feedback on that statement.

When discussing empowering teams, different things need to be in place. Empowerment of teams has some prerequisites, and one of them is trust.

When talking about trust, we can identify four different trust relationships:
You, as a leader, should trust the team;
The team should trust you as a leader;
The team members should trust each other;
You should trust yourself as a leader.

Let me explain the four relationships of trust and give you some tips on how to grow in that category.

#1: Trust the Team

When you don’t trust the team, you will not empower the team. As simple as that. My approach is always to give the team full trust from day one. I once met a leader who said he never trusted his teams. Wow‚Ķ that will be a difficult life, is what went through my mind. Give teams full trust from day number. Of course, to give full trust from the first day, some prerequisites need to be there. You should be confident the team has good knowledge about the work they need to do. You can use a competence matrix to review their skills together with the team. You can use the Art of Teams Maturity Scan to learn how well the team is doing on the trust component. You should give complete trust and ask the team to show you made the right decision over time.

#2: Gain the Trust of your Team

The team will not trust you when they believe you have a secret agenda. They will not trust you when you are unclear about your intentions. When the team doesn’t trust you, empowering the team will not work. Four things need to be in place to have the team trust you. The first one is knowledge. You should have (some) knowledge about the domain the team is working in. When you have knowledge about their domain, it will make it easier for the team to trust you. Imagine you are working in a marketing team, and your new leader has yet to learn about marketing; she has a background in construction. How easy is it for you to trust this new leader? The second one is consistency in behavior. If you, as a leader, change your behavior constantly, how do you expect people to trust you? To be trustworthy, you need to show consistent behavior. There will be no trust when people perceive a different response to the same question. The third one is having good relations. I am not saying you must become friends with your team, but you should build a good personal relationship with your team. Care about them and be sincerely interested in them. I once had a manager who never said good morning when I met him in the corridor. Even if I said good morning, he would say nothing. He was not a morning person. That is okay, but it made it hard for me to grow a relationship with him. The last one is transparency. As a leader, you should explain why you act as you act. I am not saying that you need to explain every action or task you do. However, you should clearly explain what your intentions are and why. Your team members are intelligent people. When you try to hide things for them, they will know and try to make up their own story. This story will probably not be true and different from reality. When this comes out, there is an issue, and trust will decrease, or at least not grow.

#3: Team members trusting each other

The third trust relationship is team members trusting each other. When there is no trust between team members, delegation work to them will not work. They will not work together, constantly check on each other, hide information, and maybe have non-valuable conflicts. You can’t force people to trust each other, but you can organize activities to help them trust each other. Trust in a team often grows when people really start to know each other. I am not talking about their LinkedIn profile but about really getting to know each other. What kind of hobbies do they have? Which movies do they watch? Which countries do they like? Do they have a partner, and maybe children? What type of food do they like? What is the happiest moment in their life so far? What is the saddest moment in their life so far? Trust in a team will often grow when people really start to know each other. There are many activities to learn about each other. I like the activity Personal Maps, or, for example, creating a photo wall of yourself with photos that say something about you as a person.

#4: Trust in Yourself as a Leader

The last trust relationship is one that we often forget about. Trust in yourself! You are a leader, and there is a reason you are a leader. It can be, for example, experiences, skills, or your background. However, people believe in you; otherwise, you would not be the leader. The risk of not trusting yourself is that you question yourself constantly. Is empowering the team okay? Can I ask the team to take care of this? Should I revert the decision? Should I change my opinion? You will not be consistent when you change your opinion or revert your decisions often. As a result, the team will not trust you anymore. When you constantly question yourself, you will probably have many sleepless nights ūüôĀ. That is bad for your health and emotions, and also, as a leader, you have the right to be healthy and enjoy life. To grow trust in yourself, you can do different things. Get a paper, and take an outside perspective. Write down why other people believe you are a good leader. Why did the organization decide you should be the leader? Find a buddy/coach within your organization. A person that you trust and can help you to reflect as a leader. It doesn’t have to be a guru in management and leadership. Someone who can listen to you and ask questions is already sufficient. We sometimes tend to think things that are not true and just make them worse in our heads. Having someone challenge you on those ideas can be very useful to grow trust in yourself.

In this blog post, we talked about trust. Trust is required when empowering teams. Delegating work to teams is essential to help teams to create value. Teams that are empowered to make decisions enjoy work, make better decisions, and create more value compared to teams where leaders make many of the decisions.

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