How to build team trust and boost collaboration: 5 strategies

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on: July 23, 2021 |  Reading time: 7m

Trust is one of the most essential ingredients to a team’s success. When colleagues trust each other, they plan more effectively, work more efficiently, and become stronger as a group. But when trust is lacking or damaged, it can impact everything from overall morale to employee engagement, and yes, team performance.

Building strong peer relationships and fostering trust among colleagues makes everything run a lot more smoothly. As a team leader, you can help build trust by teaching people to rely on one another and become more autonomous together. Keep reading for strategies to promote a culture of trust on your team.

Does your team trust each other?

Learning to trust your employees — and getting them to trust you, too — is something you probably want to work on as a manager. But supporting that trust among team members is just as important. Checking in regularly on team trust levels helps you spot any trust issue before it impacts productivity, performance, or collaboration.

Signs of distrust to look out for:

  • Employees bring problems to you instead of each other
  • Deliverables go through multiple checkpoints or validations
  • People don’t take ownership of tasks or projects
  • Conflict or tension arises in team meetings
  • Mistakes happen but no one takes accountability
  • The team can’t problem-solve together

Every team is unique, and trust levels can fluctuate over time. You might have a super strong sense of trust, but then a new hire or a departure shakes up the team dynamics. Or, you could have distrust on your team, until they tackle a challenge together and come out of it knowing they can rely on each other. That’s why you want to make building trust a part of your ongoing efforts to support your team.

Building team trust as a manager: 5 strategies

Building trust isn’t a one-time activity. Whether you want to establish trust on a newly-formed team, rebuild broken trust, or strengthen the trust that already exists, it’s a part of ongoing maintenance for your team’s health. Try a strategy from the list below that feels right.

1. Encourage honesty and open communication

Employees want to feel heard, respected, and valued by their peers. When employees feel like they can share their honest opinions and feedback, it leads to better ideas and stronger outputs. But if the culture on your team doesn’t allow for open dialogue, it can turn toxic. People can be passive aggressive, confrontational, gossipy, or condescending to one another.

Establishing healthy workplace communication practices and psychological safety is essential, because all of this can be detrimental to the team’s trust. This is a common pain point, so if you’re struggling with this, you’re not alone.

1 in 5 employees say that communications among peers are not honest and transparent.

Officevibe’s employee survey data

Set the tone for healthy communication

  • Ask your team to challenge you, to show them it’s okay. When you share an idea, ask does anyone see something I might be missing with this?
  • When someone interrupts or talks over a coworker in a meeting, interject and ask the first speaker if they were finished.
  • If an employee comes to you about a conflict they’re having with a team member, encourage them to address the situation directly.

2. Create opportunities for creative collaboration

For people to grow trust, they have to learn to problem-solve together, and to rely on each other to get the work done. A great opportunity for teams to build these skills is tackling tasks outside of their day-to-day. Facing new challenges and having to get creative helps teams be more resourceful and see things from new perspectives. And this will help build the open-minded, curiosity culture that will take them to the next level.

Help your team get creative

  • Set them up with the right tools for collaboration. For a remote team, you can try an online whiteboard or other creative software to facilitate virtual collaboration.
  • Seek out opportunities for your team to work with other teams at your company. They’ll have the chance to find the overlap in their objectives, see a new perspective, and work with different colleagues.
  • Once in awhile, make time for a team building activity. They’re great way to get people working together on something outside of the job, and this is how meaningful bonds (and trust) are formed.

Try thinking like you’re somebody else. Our team recently had a brainstorm where we wanted to break out from our tried-and-true methods and ideas. Chloe Allard, our Senior UX Specialist, prompted us to take on an alter ego for our idea generation.

“Think like you’re Michelle Obama or Michael Jordan. What ideas would they come up with for our team? Imagine you work for one of them. What ideas would you pitch?”

3. Empower your team to be self-organized

People start trusting each other more when they learn make decisions together. That’s why it’s important for teams to take on some leadership for themselves. Good managers tend to give employees a structure to work within, and great managers know how to create a structure that still allows for employee autonomy.

It can be tough to find the balance, but the more self-directed your team is, the more they’ll learn to trust each other. Not only that, it can also drive job satisfaction, because employees want more of a say in the work they do.

1 in 3 employees don’t feel appropriately involved in decisions that affect their work.

Officevibe’s employee survey data

Help your team manage themselves

  • Get an employee to plan and lead each team meeting. This could be brainstorms, quarterly reviews, retros, or another time when the whole team comes together.
  • Have the team do their own project planning and documentation. You can be there to support them, but make keeping planning software and meeting notes up-to-date a shared responsibility.
  • Meet with your team regularly to understand what’s enabling them or blocking them in getting their work done. Be a part of the solution whether it’s getting a new software or restructuring workflows.

4. Keep roles and responsibilities clear

One of the best ways to get people to trust each other is to make clear what every member of the team is responsible for. This means each employee knows what their job entails, but it also means they have a clear understanding of their colleagues’ roles and responsibilities. When people know exactly what’s within and outside of their job description — and each others’ — they’re more equipped to take and give ownership of tasks.

Create role clarity for your team

  • Discuss roles and responsibilities regularly in one-on-one meetings with each employee and set individual goals with each of them.
  • Map out your team’s structure and have it available for everyone to reference as needed.
  • Make sure it’s clear who will lead, contribute to, and ultimately be accountable for every project or initiative from the kickoff.

If you see something, say something. Step in when you notice redundancy, like two people doing a task that only needs to be done once. Let the employees decide if they want to take turns, or if one person can take ownership of the task. Likewise, speak up when a task is consistently not getting done. Ask your team if someone wants to take ownership, or if they want to find a way to divide the work (like doing it in rotation).

5. Make feedback a part of team culture

For some teams, feedback can be a bit of a soft spot. But the more people get comfortable giving and getting feedback from their peers, the more they can grow individually, and as a team. When people start to see that growth in action, it’ll boost individual employee engagement, and overall team trust.

Build your team’s feedback culture

  • Plan a workshop on feedback best practices so everyone can improve their feedback skills. You can even tell your team you’d like them to have more feedback exchanges.
  • Have your team add time for feedback rounds in their workflows. It might make production time a bit longer in the short-term, but could lead to long-term quality improvements.
  • Ask your team for their feedback, whether it’s in your one-on-ones, through an employee feedback survey, or after you present a plan or strategy.
  • Remember that negative feedback isn’t the only variety. Give plenty of positive, affirming feedback when you see people excel. Even when someone fails, be sure to highlight what they did well so they know what to do more of in the future.

Seize feedback opportunities when they crop up. If an employee is struggling with something, ask them if they’d like to schedule some time to workshop solutions together. When a team member presents something to the group, leave time at the end for idea sharing and coming up with possible next steps.

Team trust is a must

No matter what your team’s context is, trust is a must to your collective success. If you’re a new team, a virtual team, a leadership team, or any other kind of team, building trusting relationships among peers helps you work better together, and achieve your goals.