I thought you did that task a week ago?
But when we spoke last week we agreed that…
Why didn’t you just tell me you couldn’t complete the work today?
These words are those of a leader who is rapidly losing trust and faith in their team.
Most leaders would like their teams to be self-managing, in that they don’t have to be given direction for every single task. In these teams, team members remain accountable for their work without having a manager watching over them all day.
This is even more important when the leader has a heavy workload. How can they micromanage and do their own work at the same time?
How a Lack of Trust Impacts Your Team
When You Can’t Trust Your Team, Autonomy Suffers
When trust disappears, a leader won’t let their team members manage their own workload. They feel that if they do, the work simply won’t get done.
This results in more meetings, more planning and more tasks that are less about actually getting work done and more about monitoring people.
Given that a great way to motivate employees is by giving them more autonomy, it is likely that reducing autonomy is going to have the opposite effect.
For more about providing your team with autonomy, read this post: Why Leaders Struggle to Provide Autonomy at Work.
When You Can’t Trust Your Team, It Impacts Everybody
If there is one person in the team that the leader can’t trust, any rules put in place to fix this will likely be applied to everybody. The whole team are likely to experience more oversight and restrictions, rather than just the untrustworthy person.
This can reduce the motivation and engagement of your best team members, meaning everybody sinks to a lower level of performance and the team simply doesn’t perform like it used to.
When You Can’t Trust Your Team, You Spend Less Time Leading
Implicit in having a leadership position is the need to actually spend time leading and managing things. Performance reviews, planning activities, developing internal and external relationships, mentoring employees – these are all the tasks for a leader.
Unfortunately, when you are spending more time micromanaging your team, the leadership and development activities that build up the organisation are going to be the first to go, because they are often seen as “nice to haves”.
How to Start Fixing Trust Issues In Your Team
Trust works both ways. Your team needs to trust you too. So how do you address the trust issues in your team before you experience major problems?
1. Identify where the issues are coming from
Are you having problems with several members of your team? Or is it just one person? You should handle a single person problem individually, rather than punishing your whole team.
Discuss the performance issues and involve their line manager if you don’t manage them directly. Just don’t let a single person’s poor performance bring down your team.
2 . Look at your own behaviour to see whether it may be the cause
Some people don’t deal well with being completely autonomous, while others will thrive. You need to ensure that you don’t treat your team members exactly the same, especially if they have different working styles (they probably will).
Have you supported your team or do you openly blamed them for failures? Do they seem frustrated or bored with what they are doing? If so, these issues might be fixable.
Perhaps your team don’t feel comfortable talking to you about issues they are having. This might lead them to stay quiet, reinforcing your lack of trust as they don’t tell you what’s wrong.
3. Assign clear accountability
If you want your team to run without micromanagement, assign accountability to various team members – put them “in charge” of some aspects of the team’s work. You need to ensure you state this clearly, along with your expectations.
Otherwise your team might just assume that for everything, the buck stops with you (and not with them). You might be surprised about how motivated someone becomes once you clearly make them the lead for some aspect of your team’s performance.
Trust issues can seriously impact team performance. Without stopping and looking to examine them, some leaders can get stuck in a cycle of micromanagement and punishment which doesn’t solve anything. In many cases, it simply brings all members of the team (good and bad) down to the same level.
Trust issues might not be all your fault as a leader, but it is your responsibility to try to address them, because you have the responsibility to change how your team functions. A trustworthy team is a high-performing team, and a trustworthy leader helps these teams to flourish.
Have you struggled to trust your team? Tell me your stories in the comments below!
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