Building trust in teams: get to know your teammates

February 4, 2021

Building trust in teams starts with getting to know your teammates. Traditionally we might have taken a day out of the office for team building activities but in today’s world of remote teams and tighter budgets relationship building often only extends as far as a video call or quick drink after work.

While team building or drinks after work can be fun, for some, even the words ‘corporate team building’ is enough to make them shudder! Yet the power of getting to know your team shouldn’t be underestimated. 67% of people would like to collaborate more at work, because getting to know your teammates can make work more meaningful, enjoyable and productive.

Why it helps to know your teammates

There are huge benefits in establishing a more personal relationship with your teammates.

You might think getting to know your colleagues more personally isn’t going to help improve your professional relationship or help you get your work done quicker but Amy Cuddy’s research indicates that trust is even more important than competence in professional relationships. Warmth or trustworthiness is the most important factor in how people evaluate you, ahead of intelligence or talent. If we don’t trust someone — no matter how competent they may be it’s harder to develop a positive working relationship.

Beyond relationships, team development has a significant impact on the bottom line. 131 studies of organisational change showed team development interventions had the largest effect on financial performance.

Even team members themselves recognise that the way they work together affects their performance. 97% of employees and executives believe lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project.

What’s useful to know about the team

“The most powerful step for building trust is self-disclosure: sharing something personal and vulnerable.” Adam Grant

A team changes every time a someone leaves or joins, given that 21% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, we don’t always have time to share personal history or develop shared experiences over time. But it is important to get to know your colleagues beyond the traditional ice breakers.

This applies for all types of teams from junior teams, to management, to sports teams. The England football team’s success in this year’s world cup has been, to some extent, attributed to using trust building techniques in the lead up to the tournament. Sports psychologist Pippa Grange’s work with the team has included getting the players to sit down together in small groups to share their life experiences and anxieties and to reveal intimate truths about their character and what drives them making them a closer team with a better understanding of each other.

Where do you start?

Being the first to share something personal is difficult, especially if you’re not sure where to set the bar. So we suggest you start with values.

Values are our core motivations, they represent what we believe to be right. They are deeply held principles that guide our choices and influence our emotions. We all have values and there’s no right or wrong value, therefore they’re usually a safe place to start.

Values alignment between team members is one of the most predictive factors of team success — another reason we recommend starting with them. Teams with high value alignment tend to bond quickly, they’re are able to work together with little friction and tend to trust each other to get the job done.

The reality is that not all teams have high values alignment so teams need to take time to understand values differences and how they affect the way they work.

Try it

The language used to describe values varies, you’ve probably heard of company values but might not have through about your own personal values in any depth. We recommend using the Schwartz Values Framework, as it’s the most well researched value set.

  1. Pick what you feel are your top 3 and bottom 3 values from the diagram below.

      2.   Starting in pairs if the team isn’t yet comfortable in sharing as a group, take time to discuss your values. Pairs that might have had difficulties working well together in the past  can usually identify the cause of frustration or conflict with a quick exercise which helps to address and avoid any future problems.

Six talking points to get you started…

  1. What motivates you?
  2. Tell story about your values?
  3. How do you prefer to communicate at work?
  4. How you like to receive feedback?
  5. What are your red buttons?
  6. How you can help others in the team?

Just having these conversations can build the basis of trust in a team. Knowing each other better and understanding the story behind each other’s values and motivations can encourage good teamwork habits, such as improved collaboration, better problem solving and positive conflict.

Self awareness

A high-performing team starts with self-awareness at the individual level. It’s useful for you to take some time to think more consciously about your own personality and values before you start sharing them with the team.

Becoming more aware of your values can help you become more comfortable with their decisions and more aware of how you come across to others. Once you’re familiar with your own values, recognising how they differ to others’ in your team is a huge step in the right direction. What people often forget is that their team members aren’t working against them, but towards their own values — understanding just this can help reduce conflict.

The full benefits require some investment of time and effort, but our view is that if we can make small improvements to people’s wellbeing, happiness and productivity at work, we’re making progress.

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