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How Leaders Can Hurt Trust on Teams

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Has your leader ever influenced how much you trusted your team members?

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When you are dependent on others to get your job done, trust on teams is crucial to a positive work environment. You have to trust your colleagues as well as your leaders. Interestingly, leaders play an important part in shaping how teams trust.

The Impact of Trust

Trust is defined in the research as a state in which someone is willing to accept vulnerability because of their positive expectations of the behavior of another person. When you work on a project with a team, you decide to take a risk (or accept vulnerability) by assuming the team members’ parts work will get done. You expect they will do their part. Based on this definition, trust is an important and, often, natural part of working in an organization.

Trust has been linked to a number of important outcomes. For example, trust is related to employee satisfaction, which we know is a key driver to employee thriving. Trust also leads to increased employee effort and performance and improves collaboration and teamwork. It also leads to higher team performance and company performance!

Leaders’ Impact on Trust on Teams

While important, trust on teams can be difficult to grow. And, how trust is grown can vary based on context – virtual or in-person, global or local, etc. Did you know that leaders also have a big influence as to how teams trust?

Who you decide to trust is shaped by your experiences with and the reputation of others. That’s where leaders come into play! Leaders can easily signal to team members who they trust on the team and in the organization. This can cloud employees’ judgments of others. Plus, everyone wants to do well at work and align with their boss. If your boss has someone they don’t trust, trusting them yourself can place you in the same group as that person to your leader. Additionally, trusting those that your leader does trust aligns you with them. That makes it easier to get the attention and resources for your project and team.

Unfortunately, most leaders don’t recognize their own ‘power’ as a leader. We are likely to have ‘favorites’ and trust some people more than others, even at work. And that’s ok! However, treating people differently because they are your favorite is not ok. As a leader, take the time to evaluate if there are folks you trust more than others on your team. Why do you trust them more? Do you think others know who you trust the most? It may be time to take a step back and learn how to treat all team members equitably. Do your best to not influence your team members on who to trust. Provide space for them to learn and make their own judgments. It’s hard but we know you can do it! It’s worth it so your team members all trust each other, even if you aren’t sure that you do!

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