Working with a group of people can mean a lot of different scenarios. We’ve all been a part of a “team” where we pull most of the weight, a member is a toxic employee, or the dynamic is just hostile. Looking back on any negative group experiences you’ve had, would you say that you trusted the people you worked with?

Most likely, your answer is no. And the “team” you were a part of—well, it wasn’t a team at all. Simon Sinek, leadership expert and best-selling author, sums up the role of trust in team dynamics and workplace culture, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”

What Is Trust, Anyway?

Trust can transform a group of people into a team, making people even feel like family. Unfortunately, trust isn’t something you can just turn on. It’s not a switch or something that takes place overnight. Just as building any relationship takes spending time with another person, getting to know them, and being vulnerable, building trust with coworkers is a similar process. 

You can’t make someone trust you or even teach them how. Sinek refers to trust as a feeling, something that evolves over time and must be earned. After a series of small moments of taking risks and showing vulnerability with others, only then may you gain trust in them.

Rich Diviney, a former Navy SEAL Officer and a member of Sinek’s team, goes one step further. According to Diviney, “What we have to realize about trust is it’s more than just a feeling. A feeling is a human emotion. Trust, in fact, is a belief. A belief is a human emotion that’s been justified or rationalized by a human being.” A belief is neither right or wrong, but it is a choice to trust others, which often means choosing vulnerability. 

The Role of Leadership

You can’t teach people to trust and you can’t make someone trust you. So as a leader trying to create a team who trusts each other, you’re out of luck. 

Just kidding. 

They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. While the common phrase may be true, the horse is still way more likely to drink now that water is accessible. The same thing goes for trust.

While leaders can’t force trust within a team, they can create a setting that enables people to trust. Trust is environmental, according to Sinek, and leaders can set the tone for their environments. Any person, regardless of rank or authority, can become a leader and inspire trust within a team.  

Creating the Environment 

Building trust takes time. Sinek relates trusting someone to falling in love. The process is long and muddy and involves time for the relationship to evolve and grow. But if you apply all the steps of building friendships and partnerships to your workplace relationships, trust will follow.

When you fall in love, you invest yourself in learning about the other person, you reveal yourself and your vulnerabilities, and eventually you put the other person before yourself even if it means self-sacrifice. Your workplace relationships should be explored in the exact same pattern. 

For example, take an interest in each person you work with—their passions, their goals, their background, their insecurities. You will need to reveal the same things, and likely have to take vulnerable risks first so the other person feels safe to do the same. 

Listen thoroughly and make the other person feel heard. Ask them how they’re doing each morning before checking your email and beginning your work. Be a safe space for people to talk about their hard days, while you listen with empathy and inquire more, without giving any advice or sharing your own stories. Keep what they share with you private. Show up for them as much as you can.

Creating an environment where trust can flourish mostly boils down to caring. A strong foundation of trust will be built if you genuinely care about the people you work with the same way you would your significant other, best friend, or sibling.

Knowted is committed to sharpening your leadership skills and improving your company culture and team dynamics. For more help learning to trust and creating enabling environments, read about the products Knowted has to offer. 

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