How to Build Trust Within Your Team

So how do I go about building trust within my team to accomplish our goals? 

For this question I’m going to draw from some work done by an outstanding writer and theoretician on leadership, Bruce Avolio. Bruce talks about five things that all leaders might think about when trying to develop trust. 

1.) Deliver on all agreements.

Make sure that as a leader you deliver on all the agreements that you’ve made to the team. Anything you tell them you’re going to do- make sure you deliver on that. 

OR, if you can’t, explain to them exactly why and be very public about it.  Sociologists call this building idiosyncratic credits. Sometimes leaders have to spend those credits when things get tough and the organization has to perform because they now trust the leader in charge. 


2.)  Be very clear and explicit of your expectations for the organization.

One way of doing that, I would stress, would be to talk frequently about what are the values? What are the norms of our organization? What do we truly stand for? People won’t know what those are, if the leader doesn’t talk about the frequently.


3.) Take responsibility for your mistakes.

Be willing to take one for the team. I often say that leaders have to be a heat shield. When things go wrong, rather than trying to find somebody to throw under the bus, a leader says this is MY team, I got this wrong for the team, and we are going to do better next time.

A good example of this is Vern Miyagi, who was the head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. In January 2018, a false alarm was put out that there was an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) headed for the island of Oahu. People went into a panic, but it was found out to be false. The next day at a press conference, Miyagi announced that it was his responsibility, as he was the guy in charge, even though he wasn’t even present at the headquarters when this mistake was made. He said we will fix this, and an investigation was conducted. He never, to my knowledge, ever publicly revealed the name of the person who sent the false message out. He then subsequently resigned.


4.) Realize that whatever you say to the inner circle (that small group of people around you) will always reach the outer circle.

In the Army we had a technique called “management by walking around”. By going out and talking to everyone in the organization frequently, you get a sense that this does in fact happen. I think you’d be surprised to learn it happens very frequently. 

5.) Deal with the absolute source of the probleM, not the symptom.  

When things go wrong, sit down with your team, have a quick After-Action-Review, and get to the root of the problem. It may make for very difficult choices. As someone once said it may require you to ‘eat or kiss a frog’ to make sure that the organization is on the right track for the future.


I think Bruce is quite right. If you think about these five examples, you can improve and build greater trust in any organization.

We want to hear from YOU! What do you think about these five tips? What have you done to successfully (or unsuccessfully!) build trust within your team? Share your comments below.