Building Trust on a New Team: Leader as Visionary & Coach

Each time a new team is formed, the team leader (and each member!) has a short window of opportunity to make a first impression and establish credibility around his or her desire to create an environment that engenders TRUST. Building trust on a team is an important component of high functioning teams and is an essential skill of great leaders.

Here’s what we see over and over: Words matter. Actions resonate. Trust is built through the experience of both, when words and actions align. 

We see two roles that the gifted Team Leader adopts early on to engender a trusting environment:

1)    Leader as Practical Visionary

Consider the question – Where Are We Heading? Most leaders believe they have articulated a vision – that Big Picture event or set of outcomes that will lead the team and the organization to massive success.

Most team members will say, yes, I see that’s your vision.

But the heart of alignment and execution around a vision is describing it in terms that team members can grasp. Ask yourself, does the audience (the team member) see how he can participate, how he can contribute, and why he should want to contribute? What is the connection between that Vision and the set of values the team member has? How can she make that Vision her own?

The practical part of visioning is literally drawing a picture in which team members can see themselves as active participants. Otherwise it’s my vision and your execution. What can they do to help draw that picture?

How our New Team Leader (from the previous blog) handles this is by sponsoring forums in which team members deep dive into each component of the vision. They discuss team values and the team agreements they have now created. They point to what each item actually means, how it applies to him or her, what is working, what is not. They share what they have done to contribute to its success or lack of success.  

Many step right into the fray. They take accountability and share accolades with others. Some hang by the sidelines, having become deeply skeptical due to previous work situations in which what was said was not meant. This is not a slam dunk one time experience in which trust is built overnight. It is an unfolding, a proving ground – that the Leader really does want to hear my thoughts, that it is safe to share, that it is inspiring to do so. That I have a role in this vision and am encouraged to play my part well.

2) Leader as Coach

The best way to encourage team members to play their part well, to participate in solution finding, to take accountability, to stretch themselves toward greater leadership is to coach them.

What does that mean? Think of Coaching as the flip side of Directing. Instead of telling someone what you need from them, what they need to do to achieve those expectations – which is certainly something the Team Leader needs to do at times – in a coaching role, the Team Leader asks a series of open ended questions, encourages insight and observation from the Team member, invites him or her to come up with solutions and ideas for next steps.

Our New Team Leader effectively handles this with both informal and formal conversations. He walks the halls with his managers, seeking their reflections on a meeting just held, or asking what they are grappling with today. Then he listens. He doesn’t jump straight into problem solving. He encourages reflection, asking what solutions they have in mind, and how they might go about sharing their insights with others.

The foundation of trust continues to be built in these one-on-one conversations. It becomes quite evident that the Leader expects them to participate in solution building, that he is encouraging their full out experimentation with what success will look like, and that he expects them to share those insights with their peers.

He is, forum by forum, conversation by conversation, building a trusting environment.