Line managers: 5 ways to build trust with teams

Published 2nd May 2018 by Investors In People

Treat people as individuals – but don’t do it silently

People have unique needs in life, meaning they need individual treatment at work in order to be happy and productive. But when individual treatment is seen as unfairly advantageous or that the line manager is not treating everyone as equals, trust is damaged.

However, when people understand why people are treated the way they are (such as extenuating circumstances), trust is built. Managers should personalise the support and attention they give individuals but make it clear across the team why. This is actually best done by the individuals themselves, with the manager’s support.

By treating people as individuals and making it clear that everyone has access to the support and attention they require, the manager builds trust across the whole team.

Line managers must communicate information as a matter of course, as a non-negotiable daily ritual that’s embedded in the very functioning of the team.

Rotate core responsibilities to show mutual respect

Perceived favouritism destroys trust because it feels like an injustice, which damages our commitment under the psychological contract. Less-experienced managers often lean towards team members who are similar to them. This can lead to accusations of favourtism, with other team members feeling underdeveloped or disrespected.

Managers should rotate responsibilities and opportunities, such as chairing meetings, being the team lead on cross-functional projects and project managing in-team initiatives. Another option is adopting a strengths-based approach, giving individuals the tasks that suit their strengths, as long as you distribute the ‘important’ tasks evenly. The key thing is to be inclusive.

Be very clear on team responsibilities and rights

What does it mean to be part of your team? Does everyone pick up tasks that are left hanging when other team member are off sick? Are people expected to speak up when there’s a issue? Should everyone respect the rights and unique needs of their colleagues?

When asked these questions, everyone should say similar answers. When people have different answers, and no-one is aware of what the line manager expects, trust is impacted and people feel less like a team and more like a bunch of poorly-aligned individuals.

Line managers should be very clear, with existing team members and new ones that join, what is expected of them as individuals and as part of the team. This helps avoid issues in the ‘say-do’ gap, where one person thinks a commitment of action has been made but the other doesn’t.

Communicate non-pertinent information

Communication is essential to positive relationships. Like many processes in organisations, it’s been optimised for efficiency – people have been trained to only communicate what’s necessary.

This is the opposite of how trusting human relationships work. Trust is built through open communication channels. Line managers must communicate information as a matter of course, as a non-negotiable daily ritual that’s embedded in the very functioning of the team.

People want to feel valued: communicating openly makes them feel valued as people, whereas communicating only what’s necessary to doing their jobs makes them feel like a cog in the machine, which affects trust.

Practice strengths-based delegation

This helps develop the Trust of Capability [PDF], which is built when we “leverage the skills and abilities of one another, seeking each other’s input, engaging in decision-making and teaching new skills.”

Perceived favouritism destroys trust because it feels like an injustice, which damages our commitment under the psychological contract.

If line managers actively and openly delegate based on technical and behavioural strengths and communicate this process to team members, individuals will come to understand and appreciate the strengths and abilities of their colleagues.

This encourages strengths-based innovation and collaboration, both under the direction of and outside of the line manager, as individuals see how leveraging others’ strengths leads to superior results.

Interested in other ways to build trust? Take a look at our article on the two key types of trust for leaders.

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