Meet Susan. Once upon a time, Susan was brimming with confidence, a strong performer happy to tackle any challenging task in her workplace. Then her new manager started and things changed.
Susan started to feel vulnerable in her role. Her manager didn’t seem to trust her, so she became nervous about the work she was doing and whether it was good enough. Susan’s manager started to watch her closely and pick over her work until she had very little room to work independently.
Susan sometimes saw people in the workplace behaving badly, but she no longer said anything. She used to speak up with her opinion about how the team was working, but now she stays silent.
Not only is Susan unable to live up to her potential. She is also now a silent observer in the gradual transformation towards a toxic workplace.
Why Team Confidence Is Critical for Every Workplace
I’ve come across Susan in many workplaces. When team members lose confidence in their ability to complete their tasks successfully or to make change in their workplace, performance, motivation and morale suffers.
Team members don’t lose confidence overnight. Similarly, team confidence is not built in a day. It is a gradual process, where each positive experience builds to develop into real confidence.
Team Confidence Means Less Oversight
When your team members are confident, you need to spend less time overseeing their work and making sure they are on the right track. The intention here is not that your team never need to talk to you anymore, but simply to enable more autonomy.
A confident team will generally need to rely less on their leader to make decisions in their role, and will feel confident that they’re on the right track.
This means more time for both you and your team to focus on what matters and engage on the bigger issues that need solving.
Learn More: Are you a Micromanaging Boss? Here’s How to Break the Habit.
A Confident Team Member Speaks Up
When you’re lacking confidence, there is a voice in your head saying “Are you sure you know what you’re talking about?” This nagging doubt can be enough for anyone to stay silent.
Team confidence creates an environment where people aren’t afraid to speak up. The voice in the head changes from “Are you sure that’s right?” to “I’m sure something’s not right here”.
Building confidence in your team will help your team members to speak up against bad behaviour and also come forward with their ideas more readily. If your team members are staying silent, you’re missing opportunities to improve, and even worse, you may be setting the scene for a toxic workplace as poor behaviour goes unpunished.
Learn More: Toxic Workplaces: How Leaders Can Stop Them.
The Ingredients of Team Confidence
Confident team members have two main attributes.
Firstly, they believe that they can perform their work well and that when they put their mind to a task, they’ll be able to succeed. This is called self-efficacy.
Second, confident team members have high self-esteem. This means that they believe they are “worth it” and believe they are a valuable member of the team.
So why does this matter?
Because team confidence comes from team members having both of these attributes. Team members who have high self-efficacy are confident to perform their work, and will require less oversight, as we covered earlier.
Importantly, team members with high self-efficacy also feel as if they can make change and make a positive difference.
Confident Team Members Are Less Likely to Put Up With Poor Conditions
We also need team members with high self-esteem because they are less likely to put up with bad workplace conditions and bad behaviour.
Personally, if something bad is happening in my workplace, I want my team members to be able to say “I’m not putting up with this”, and to feel that they can speak up to help fix it.
Team members who put up with poor conditions and accept bad behaviour are not helpful. They simply reinforce the status quo, and nothing changes.
That’s why we want to build self-esteem in our people so they fail to accept poor conditions.
Of course, it’s also our job as leaders to stop bad behaviour and to speak out. But it’s a lot easier to do so when your team members are telling you that there’s a problem.
After all, we can’t be everywhere at once, and sometimes we don’t see toxic behaviours every time they occur.
How to Starting Building Team Confidence
There are a few things we can do to start building confidence in our teams. They aren’t difficult steps to take, but consistency is important, because confidence builds gradually over time.
1. Build Team Confidence by Making Yourself Available
One of the simplest ways to build confidence in your team members is to make yourself available for them. In general, I like to do this by booking time each week to spend time with each team member.
This might be over coffee or in a more formal setting. For this to work, you need to stick to the schedule. If you find yourself continuously cancelling or delaying these meetings, you run this risk of eroding confidence.
Taking the time to be there for your team is valuable because not only can you help to coach them through challenges they have, you also build self-esteem by showing them that they are worth spending time with.
It’s critical to remember that as leaders, we may be perceived as “important” in our company. Choosing to spend time with team members sends a powerful message of support that can build team confidence.
2. Start Tackling Team Issues
If you’re having issues in your team or with other teams, it’s important not to let them fester. When team members are struggling, failing to address issues sends two messages:
- The problem isn’t worth worrying about: This means your team members will think that they were silly to raise it with you, which sets a nasty precedent.
- Issues are OK, and people need to just put up with them: Self-esteem starts to suffer, because “I’m worth it” starts to become “I’m not important enough for my boss to try to solve this problem”.
Admittedly, some problems are hard to crack, and they may take some time. In this case, it’s important to at least tell your team members that you’re working on it. Explain the steps you’re trying to take and why you think it will help.
This at least send the message that they are worth fighting for, and that the problem is worth solving.
3. Build Team Confidence by Developing Your People
Earlier we looked at self-efficacy – the belief that your team members feel they can succeed. To build this aspect, we need to make sure they have the skills to do their work effectively.
Our weaknesses or skill-gaps can destroy self-efficacy because they make us feel less effective. If the weaknesses of your team members are likely to affect their ability to do their work, you need to address them. You can achieve this through coaching, mentoring or training.
If you’re having trouble identifying weaknesses or skill-gaps, look for stress, lack of confidence and anxiety instead. Working with your team to identify times when they feel stressed and anxious in their role may lead you to discover the areas where they need development.
Addressing weaknesses are one part, but the other is to develop your team members in line with their career aspirations. Developing skills and experience for your team members to improve their careers can build confidence and self-esteem.
A leader that invests in people to achieve career goals sends a strong message that makes people feel worthy and valuable.
4. Let Your People Try New Things and Fail
As you’ve probably worked out from reading some of my articles, I’m very keen to make sure that people aren’t spending time working on things that don’t matter. I believe that in most cases “Done is better than perfect”.
We should never spend time perfecting something when we don’t even know if it’s the right way to go.
As such, let your team try new approaches and tools and see if they work. If they don’t, adapt your approach to see if you can improve.
Supporting your team with trial and error can help to build confidence because it shows you have their backs, even if they fail.
It’s important to note that for this to work, you need to accept your part in any failure. You can’t just leave your team to deal with any collateral damage.
5. Build Team Confidence by Having Team Members Mentor Others
If you lead a team with both senior and more junior team members, establishing mentoring relationships can be a great way to build team confidence.
Firstly, your junior people will gain confidence and learn new skills from the support provided by the senior mentor. But this isn’t where it stops.
Your senior people will actually build confidence because your juniors are relying on them to succeed. The mentors in your team will build self-esteem because they can see that they’re valuable not just from doing their work, but by building capability in the team at the same time.
If you want your team speaking up and feeling confident to work autonomously, then you can gain a lot by building team confidence. Start taking some of these steps today, and see the difference.
Do You Doubt Your Ability to Lead Your Team? Try the Leadership Confidence Online Course.
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What other ways have you used to build team confidence? What examples have you seen from high or low team confidence in your workplace? I’d love to read your stories below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.
This is a fantastic article and aligned with the leadership vision we have here at Steelcase. Well put!
Thanks for the comment Bob – sounds like you’re building something good there!
As someone who feels quite suffocated at times from work and had developed anxiety due to mobbing from managers in my old workplace, I agree with everything in this very well written article. Now, I have to work with a team leader who has no experience in leading anything ever, and it’s straining to deal with his daily mood swings and “only I know everything, not even other team leaders” attitude. Surprisingly, he praises my work to other people in the office, but I just feel like what I do doesn’t even matter, and like I’m just a placeholder. I’m left with almost no self confidence, and now I just try to work in silence.
I just really, really wish other managers and team leaders could see this article and reconsider their ways.
Thank you for your comment, appreciate you taking the time.
I’m sorry your current team leader is making work difficult – just remember that confidence starts from within. Your team leader can’t give you confidence (but they could certainly help you get it).
There are some starting ideas for building confidence here, even if you’re not in a leadership role: https://www.thoughtfulleader.com/leaders-build-self-confidence/
Unfortunately no terrible manager is going to read my articles and change their ways, because they usually aren’t interested. The only thing we can do is focus on being better at work ourselves. We can only aim to be a role model for those around us and the next generation of leaders will hopefully learn good habits.