Trust is the foundation of positive relationships between employees and their managers. What’s more, it translates directly to team members’ work satisfaction. According to the National Study of Employee Experience, 74% of employees would leave an organization if they don’t trust its leadership. Clearly, the importance of trust between teams and their managers shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, we’ll share a lot of tips for building trust with your project team, whether you’re a project manager or a technical leader.

Be honest

That has to be one of the most important ways of establishing trust. At the end of the day, you need to be trustworthy as a coworker and as a manager. What are the building blocks of workplace honesty?

Keep your team in the loop 

We’ve created a separate blog post about project transparency because we think it’s extremely important when trying to keep your team happy and productive. People appreciate it when you share information with them, especially when it affects their job, Granted, you’re not always allowed to spill the beans on some confidential plans, but prioritize being straightforward with your team.

Own your mistakes 

Sure, you want to be perceived as a competent professional, but even the best specialists make errors. Your team members will probably notice them anyway, so you can build more trust and establish a better relationship with them by owning your mistakes and trying to move on from that. Leaders who try to cover their missteps often end up to be the punchline of jokes shared in the office. Those who admit to their mistakes and show some vulnerability, on the other hand, inspire people.

Don’t badmouth people 

See, even if it feels like a fun office banter, you shouldn’t get involved in gossiping or badmouthing sessions. If you speak ill of your team members, they will find it hard to trust you. Even if you badmouth someone from outside the team, it’s still not great: it shows that you’re capable of being scheming and dishonest. Suffice to say these are not the qualities people seek in their leaders. 

Provide and encourage feedback 

Your team members will appreciate constructive feedback, as it allows them to get better at their work. Sometimes managers prefer not to say anything at all, as they don’t want to come off as critical. Yet, if your feedback is fact-driven and insightful, it will be very valuable for your team. What does it have to do with building trust? A lot, actually. A leader who doesn’t share their feedback may seem distant and provoke thoughts like: “are they not sharing their feedback because they don’t have one or because they secretly hate our work but won’t express it?”

Give recognition where recognition is due 

Now, this is admittedly not the only (or even the most effective) way to build trust with your team because building trust is not about flooding people with compliments. Yet, if you give props thoughtfully and you’re being fair about it, it will help to position you as a good and trustworthy leader.

Explain your expectations clearly 

This is the best way to make sure that your team members know what to do and how. It’s also imperative when you want to address these expectations later, e.g., during a 1on1 meeting: if you hadn’t told your people what you expect from them, they wouldn’t have been able to come through.

Be reliable

Stick to your promises. People who don’t follow through on their promises are not considered trustworthy, inside or outside of the office. If you make promises to your team, remember that they expect you to get it done, or at least explain why it can’t be done after all.

Walk the walk 

If you demand hard work as a team manager, you need to lead by example. Whatever your leadership style and work ethics are, you need to embody their principles if you want to be perceived as trustworthy among your employees. People won’t be able to trust a leader who says one thing, but their behavior points to a different thing entirely.

Prioritize your team’s well-being

As a leader or a PM, you have a more significant influence on the organization as a whole. Make sure that you always stay in your team’s corner. Say, that there’s some tension in your project team because you’re dealing with a very difficult client. Your manager will probably expect you to deliver the project on time, even if it means that your team members have to put in a lot of extra hours. If you feel that this is unfair, and you have an alternative idea that accounts for your team’s happiness, you need to share it.  Standing up for your people will earn you a lot of trust from them. When you have an opportunity to invest in your team’s well-being, do so.

Be consistent in your behavior 

Raise your hand if you would like to have a manager who’s behaving one way on Mondays, but then on Tuesdays, they show up as a completely different person? It’s not great, and definitely not a way to build a trust-based relationship with your employees. Consistency in your leadership will make people more comfortable.

Don’t leave people hanging 

Follow through on your commitments. Sometimes these commitments may seem minor: say a coworker asked you whether they can take a day off the following week, and you forgot to reply to this request. It may not have been your priority, but it’s clearly important for that employee. People don’t tend to trust leaders who are “all talk” and nothing more. 

What can you do to remember about commitments you made? Take notes, or set up a system of email or Slack notification via e.g., Zapier. You can create an automated workflow dictating that you receive a ping on Slack every time someone requests a vacation in Teamdeck. Get proactive! Similar automation could inform you whenever someone logs in some overtime in their timesheets. You can then reach out and make sure if everything’s fine.

Appreciate your team

You might be in charge of that team from the beginning of the project.

Or you might have been assigned somewhere in the middle of the process. Either way, start by getting your team together and discussing some important things: the project, your expectations, your processes, your team’s expectations, and their preferred processes. 

Try to learn more about your team members in the process. Such a beginning will show that you care about your employees and that you want to get the project done while maintaining a healthy atmosphere.

Give your employees some autonomy 

Do you want to build trust with your project team? Show them that you trust the first by giving them room and time for autonomous decisions and activities.

Express empathy

This goes hand in hand with getting to know your employees: once you understand where they come from, you can be more empathetic towards their feelings and actions. You’ll also be able to distribute work across your team better if you know every team member’s strongest suits. Empathy is about having a connection with others, and being considerate: ask people to express their opinions, show more patience on your part and, most importantly:

Listen to your team 

Make time for honest conversations with your team members. Meet them for 1on1 meetings during which they can express their concerns and ask questions. You should practice active listening during the all-hands meetings as well. This practice will help you to cultivate empathy but also gain more trust.

Learn to value every team member 

As you work with your team some more, and you’re learning more about their performance at work, try to find elements that are unique and valuable in each of them. Develop a sense of appreciation, and you’ll be able to come off as more authentic and trustworthy when giving recognition or sharing feedback.

There’s no denying that it’s challenging to build trust and very simple to lose it. Try to incorporate the tips we’ve listed today into your management style, and you’ll be much closer to achieving a trust-based relationship with your direct reports. With time, you’re also likely to see other benefits of such an approach: your team members will communicate more openly and contribute their ideas. Finally, your actions may also directly translate into your company’s bottom line as companies with high trust levels are more likely to have high revenue than low-trust organizations. Good luck!

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