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Building Trust in Teams is Tough!

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In the current climate the need for imagination and innovation is greater than ever.

Small and large businesses need to adapt and shape their plans to survive and flourish in the pandemic and post-pandemic world.

But how do leaders gain trust to create the change businesses need to survive? 

How do they create trust in virtual or separated teams who they need to adapt to change and innovation?

This is especially challenging in a changing world where difficult decisions that leaders need to take often result in a breakdown in trust.

And we all know that repairing trust is far, far harder than building it from the ground up could ever have been.

What Makes Us Trust People? 

At EBW Global, we have covered how building trust in teams relates to psychological safety, accountability, and team roles. 

We are not the first, there is plenty of evidence out there to support the importance of developing trust, but research suggests that the reasons why we trust people is more complicated than many may realise. 

There are 3 psychological models that explain why we might build trust in others.

As organisations restructure and new teams are formed with different people and working practices the reasons not to trust leaders and team members become amplified. 

Traditional trust models no longer work in a virtual world, as the interpersonal cues and the ways of working that team members used to build trust with each other are restricted and strained in remote teams, effecting teams’ ability to improve or maintain productivity.  

All of the research into industry 4.0 trends show that while digital skills are really important, soft skills are vital,” says head of the Graduate Business School at TU Dublin Colin Hughes.

“It’s not just about team members trusting the leader. It’s about the leader being confident enough to trust team members without seeing them. Trust in members’ self-efficacy definitely comes into it. It’s not about standing over people and watching what they are doing.”

So, what can leaders do to help maintain and build trust in their teams?

Building Trust in Teams During Change

Research suggests the impact of trust and what people need to develop trust is different depending on their role in their organisation.

For example, in 2002, Kurt Dirks and Donald Ferrin collected research on trust in leadership from over 27,000 people in 106 different studies. They found that trust works differently for immediate supervisors and C-suite leaders, but in both cases, trust matters.

Research by Google in 2015 on over 180 google teams found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they're more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they're rated as effective twice as often by executives.

More recently, research by Hughes, Rigtering, Covin, Bouncken and Kraus (2018) in the British Journal of Management analysed the effect that trust can have on individual and team levels of innovation.

The researchers worked with a Dutch financial services firm where they collected responses from 1,104 team members working in 139 teams. 

They examined the difference between horizontal and vertical trust models.

They found that horizontal trust – between employees at the same level in an organisational setting – is a significant indicator for performance in the innovative behaviour of an individual. 

When there is little vertical trust – between management and the team – team (horizontal) trust is even more important for innovative team behaviour and work performance.

This also occurs if the opposite is true. If trust is lacking between team-members, then the trust in management and leaders becomes even more important.

What is particularly interesting for leaders and managers is that when horizontal and vertical trust are both high, entrepreneurial activities are low. 

This may be because in this setting workers fail to critically evaluate their potential innovative behaviours adequately because they are confident that their managers and colleagues will critique it carefully. 

EBW Global View

The research has three main takeaways: 

  1. As found in previous studies, encouraging trust between colleagues can have an immensely positive impact on workplace innovation and performance. 
  2. Individual team members need to feel accountable for potential innovative ideas. Too much “vertical”  trust in a leader’s or another team member’s ability can lead to feeling absolved of responsibility to problem solve or find solutions. 
  3. Understanding how to foster the right level trust is more complicated than many leaders may understand, but the rewards for individual and team innovation will be worth the efforts.

So how can we build trust in teams during change?

Building Trust in Teams 

In today new world leaders need to be able to develop virtual team leadership that enables then to build high-trust, high-performance teams.

The EBW Emotional Intelligence model for effective teams provides a straightforward framework (see image) for teams to understand how their Emotional Intelligence impacts on the pyramid of core drivers, that underpin team's performance.

Its focus is helping teams deploy their Emotional Intelligence to build these core team drivers 

  • A shared vision and goals
  • Healthy trust levels,
  • A strong commitment to team goals
  • High Team Identity (loyalty & accountability)
  • Superior communication & feedback
  • Enhanced capability to work together

By using this straightforward approach face to face, virtual or remote teams are better able to move forward, grow and overcome the significant challenges they are facing.

For more information on trust, on the model shown above, and on how this approach can be introduced to and cemented within your organisation’s teams, use this link to book a call with an EBW Global Certified Partner
or checkout the EBWt Team Assessment Toolkit

Building Trust Activities 
In order to act proactively on this research today, start adopting these activities to build trust in your virtual workplace:

Dedicate weekly time to meeting virtual colleagues 

Being able to focus on the employee for time during each week, and not just on their workload, will help build trust. In times of crisis and uncertainty, this distinction is vital for your workforce. 

Communicate clearly and frequently

Deciding what to divulge or not divulge to your employees in the current climate is a challenge. However, remember that any gaps you leave in information will lead to guess-work and these guesses will more than likely be negative assumptions and worst-case scenarios.

Commit to what you say 

Making promises that aren’t kept – however trivial – is damaging to team morale and to the trust your team will give you. Keeping to assigned schedules by ending meetings on time and forwarding documents and feedback that you have assured will come in a timely manner can have motivational effects on your teams’ productivity and performance, as well as building trust in you as a leader.

Encourage non-work meetings

Virtual coffees and after work events will foster positivity and trust between colleagues as they engage with each other. Priming such events with a starter question to introduce conversation or debate away from work matters can be a fun and easy way to improve the work environment and nurture trust, which, as we have seen, will increase innovation and performance.


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About EBW Global 

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With a practitioners' network based on 6 continents, all of whom are certified to use the EBW Global assessments and tools, we guarantee the EBW Global Business Emotional Intelligence approach empowers leaders and teams to transform themselves and their organisations.

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