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How Leaders Can Improve Teamwork And Build Trust

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Have you ever worked in a group? In my academic studies, I found it interesting that the concept of Storm and Stress could be found in both the earlier studies of task group conflicts and family dynamics.

Anyone who has been around a touchy adolescent girl and her mother when they trigger each other can easily spot the extremes of emotion occasionally getting expressed. Similarly, this tension can appear in immature groups. After a time of forming, leadership gets questioned and conflict can erupt with similar extremes of emotions, especially when the group has a diversity of personality or opinions. Conflict is a normal part of the growing pains of a group.

Typically these "forming" hiccoughs get dealt with fairly quickly and codes of behaviour or hierarchy become established. However, some folks have inflexible tendencies and try to bully things to go their way, regardless of the rest of the group. Others within the group will roll their eyes and label these folks as "difficult people".

Every time there is a change to a group, even if everyone used to play nice together, a newcomer or a new goal can upset the whole apple cart. It's not surprising that many people get stressed at the thought of having to work with others.

So, what is the #1 element to creating positive and productive group dynamics? I'm glad you asked.

The most influential element for good teamwork is trust. When trust goes up, fear goes down; and vice versa. When people work and play nice together, it means that there is high trust in the group.

When a group is having performance or productivity issues, look for cliques or factions that separate the group. A good leader who wants to take control of this will introduce trust building actions to the group. For this to work best, ideally, the group should recognize the leader as an authority figure or he or she should be otherwise influential.

From their book "Smart Trust", Stephen M. R. Covey and Greg Link outline these five actions that high trust team members take that increase group cohesiveness or squashes existing conflicts.

  1. Choose to believe and trust. This is where great leaders take their first steps intelligently and with integrity. They choose to believe and trust in the process and in the people they work with.
  2. Start with themselves. They make sure they are themselves competent to their job and trustworthy to others who count on them.
  3. Declare their intents and assume positive intent in others. Trusting leaders openly express their commitment to trusting others and their expectations that others should be trustworthy.
  4. Do what they say they are going to do. These smart leaders can easily follow through on their promises because they only state what they know they can follow through on.
  5. Lead out in extending trust to others. Modelling their expectations, they are the first to believe others. They give them chances where others have doubted them. This fosters good feelings and increases trust.

The trust theories are so logical yet can be difficult to implement. Let's face it, trust leadership is not natural for everyone. Healthy human relation habits are hard and can feel risky to adopt when trust is currently low. The smart leader knows that someone needs to trust first and does it intelligently.

When fear is predominant, we convince ourselves that we should wait until others prove themselves to us. That only serves to create suspicion and more fear. However, introducing trust actions is the foundation of quality teamwork and the glue of productivity.

If you think about a great group experience where trust and respect were high, chances are people truly enjoyed each other's company and innovation and productivity came easily.

What have you seen or done in a group that increased group trust? I'd love to hear from you.