When I ask my students and clients what makes for a successful project team, I get all kinds of answers.

Good leadership, well-defined processes, talent, diversity, ownership, accountability… the list goes on.

And that’s all important — but there’s something even more crucial. 

And if this thing is missing…

…all the talent, leadership, and ownership in the world won’t produce a high-performing team.

So what is this thing?

In a word: TRUST.

Without trust — between the team and the leadership, between the team and the project manager, and among the team members themselves — the team will flounder.

They will not be willing to take risks, they will be reluctant to speak their mind, and they will avoid stepping up and putting themselves out there.

With mutual trust, these problems become non-issues.

When team members…

  • believe that managers and leaders have their back…
  • feel comfortable flagging problems, raising questions, and suggesting solutions…
  • assume that good intentions lie behind each action and interaction…
  • operate from a place of curiosity and openness…
  • and believe that “we are all in this together”….

…the entire team operates more proactively, solves problems more rapidly, and executes more effectively.

How to Foster Trust Within Your Team

To trust others, we need to practice curiosity and non-judgement. 

We often react instinctively to interactions that produce new information, pressures, challenges, or confrontations.  Rather than taking time to think about what the other person is really trying to communicate or digging deep to fully understand a situation, we tend to make assumptions and rush to judgement.

We’re rarely even aware that we’re behaving this way — and yet it’s all too common when we feel stressed or threatened in some way. 

To foster trust within ourselves and others, we need to be open to fully understanding the other person’s perspective and the full dynamics of a situation.

To do so requires being aware of constraints that people are operating under and the information they have available to them. And we need to take time to ask clarifying questions that can help us come to a common understanding.

Trusting others involves courage on our part — the courage to be wrong, to be honest, to be vulnerable.

Brene Brown breaks mutual trust into seven elements:

  • Respect for one another’s BOUNDARIES and a willingness to say “no.”
  • A commitment to RELIABILITY, so others can count on your word and your ability to deliver on your promises.
  • A willingness to help yourself ACCOUNTABLE for mistakes and misjudgements.
  • A commitment to keep confidences in a VAULT and a refusal to share information, stories, or experiences that are not yours to share. 
  • The INTEGRITY to prioritize what is right over what feels most comfortable.
  • A willingness to engage with others from a place of NON-JUDGEMENT.
  • An ability to interpret the words and actions of others with GENEROSITY.

When members of a team consistently demonstrate these qualities in their interactions with one another, trust inevitably follows.

And that trust is the cornerstone of a cohesive, effective, successful team.

When a project team truly feels that they can count on one another; that managers and leaders are there to support them rather than find fault; and that their efforts will be understood in the best possible light…

…they’ll work harder, take more chances, be more creative, and solve more problems.

And the end result will be a happier team, a more enjoyable work environment, and more successful project outcomes. 

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