Can’t trust your team? Why it really matters

Can you trust your team?
Can you trust your team?

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 weren’t going to be able to get it done today?

These statements are those of a leader who is rapidly losing trust and faith in their team.

Most leaders would like their teams to be somewhat self-managing, in that they don’t have to give them direction for every single task. Team members take on various responsibilities and remain accountable for them without having a manager needing to breathe down their neck all day.

This is especially true when the leader has a heavy workload – how can they micromanage and do their own work at the same time?

The impact being unable to trust your team

When you start to lose trust in your team, the impact on overall performance is nothing but negative.

When you can’t trust your team, autonomy suffers

No longer will the leader let their team members manage their own workload – they now feel that if they do this, the work simply won’t get done. What results is more meetings, more planning and more tasks that are less directly correlated with actually getting work done.

The leader now spends more time monitoring the team closely and course-correcting when things aren’t being done how they would like. 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.

When you can’t trust your team, everybody in the team is impacted

If there is one person in the team that the leader feels can’t be trusted, the rules implemented for the team will likely be applied to everybody. Tighter restrictions and oversight are likely to be incurred by everybody in the team, not just the person who is the least able to be trusted.

This can reduce the motivation and engagement of previously engaged and trustworthy employees, meaning everybody sinks to a lower level of performance and the team simply doesn’t produce outcomes 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”.

Addressing trust issues in your team

As with most things, 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 localised to one person? A single person issue is potentially better tackled individually, rather than clamping down overheads on your entire team.

Discuss the performance issues and if you aren’t the line manager, get them involved to help you. 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 complete autonomy, while others may flourish. You need to ensure that you don’t treat your team members exactly the same, especially if they have different working styles (which they probably will). Are you expecting too much from your team?

Have you supported your team or 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 demeanour is such that your team don’t feel comfortable talking to you about issues they are having – leading them to stay quiet, reinforcing your lack of trust as they don’t deliver.

3- Assign clear accountability: If you want your team to run without micromanagement, assign accountability to various team members – put them “in charge” of various aspects of the team’s work. You might think you’ve done this already, but you need to ensure it is very clearly stated, 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 and engaged someone becomes once you clearly make them the lead for an aspect of your team’s performance.

Trust issues can seriously impact the performance of a team. Without stopping and looking to examine them, some leaders can engage in a cycle of micromanagement and punishment which doesn’t actually 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 examine and to try to address them, because you have the remit to change how your team functions. A trustworthy team is a high-performing team, and a trustworthy leader enables these teams to flourish.

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