Dr Amy Climer

Episode 28: How to Build Trust Within Your Team

This episode topic was requested by several listeners. In a recent survey, several asked how to build trust in teams. This episode introduces three ways to start building trust within you team. But first, I explain why trust matters and how it impacts creativity.

What You’ll Learn

  • Two types of trust that are important to creativity
  • The relationship between trust and conflict
  • Three strategies you can implement to increase trust within your team.

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

The Weekly Challenge

This week, try to do one of the suggestions shared in the podcast: Either implement regular meetings or set up a structured process to help team members get to know each other. How did it go? What were the results? Share in the comment section below or send me an email.


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Hey everyone! Welcome to Episode 28. Today we are going to talk about how to build trust in your team and why it matters for creativity. But first, I have a few announcements to share. The first announcement is two days ago, I released the initial survey that is leading to the creation of a scale for teams. This is part of my dissertation research and I am so excited because today is Day Three and 391 people have already responded and taken the survey. Thank you so much if you are one of those people! I really really appreciate it! If you have not taken the survey, I would love for you to take the survey. It takes about 10 minutes and it is a survey about a team that you are on. So I will put a link on the show notes which is climerconsulting.com/028 or you could also access it at creativesynergyscale.com. Or you can find it on my Facebook page and there are some posts on Twitter. What is so cool is that some of the people who have taken the survey have emailed me and told me how much they enjoyed taking it because it really made them think about their team and reflect on the team that they work with and just some of the different aspects of the team. So you may really enjoy taking it and I will be so thankful! Today is Thursday, December 10th 2015 and it will be up for another week. Maybe two weeks we’re going to see. I need to get about 600. I am hoping to get 1,000. That’s my big stretch goal. If I get 1,000 people to take that survey? Wow! That will be awesome! This is all going to lead to a scale that will help teams understand their creativity better and I am going to keep it vague. I am not going to talk too much about it because I don’t want to sway any responses. I want you to go in there pretty blind to what the actual purpose is other than knowing it is about a team. So, if you have ten minutes if you can donate ten minutes of your time to me and help me make this dissertation research amazing, I will be so thankful once it is all done, you’ll get to enjoy it as well. Anyway once again, creativesynergyscale.com. Go check that out. So, that’s a big announcement that I wanted to share and again thank you so much to everybody who participated. That means so much to me.


This episode topic comes from a couple of different listeners. I sent out a survey to my newsletter about six months ago asking for different topic ideas about what you want to learn about creativity in teams. Multiple people asked, “how do you build trust in teams?” So that’s what we are going to talk about today. So I’ll first explain what do we mean by trust? So there are definitely different types of trust. I really like Patrick Lencioni’s definition. Patrick Lencioni wrote the book Five Dysfunctions of a Team along with many other books. He’s a really a very prolific writer for one. But his books are just simple and easy to read. He presents the concepts in a great format. I am a very big fan of his books. So I definitely recommend Five Dysfunctions of a Team if you haven’t read it yet. I used the concepts that he presents in there and a lot of the workshops in the trainings that I do with teams. Okay so, Lencioni’s definition of trust is that “you believe that your peers’ intentions are good and that you don’t need to be protective or careful around the group.” So in essence, teammates are comfortable being vulnerable with each other. So, as a team member would feel emotionally safe to share opinions, ideas, different perceptions, maybe disagreeing with people. I would feel comfortable disagreeing with them, that’s trust within a team. That is very important.

[4:27] Two Different Types of Trust

Research. The research on trust identifies at least two different types of trust. One is called cognitive trust and the other is called affective trust.

[4:38] Cognitive Trust

Cognitive trust is when we trust each other’s experience and their knowledge. So for instance, just today I was at my local Apple store which is called Graphite Apple Specialist. Highly recommended if you are in Madison, Wisconsin, had a great experience. I placed a lot of cognitive trust in them because I am assuming that they have a high level of knowledge about Apple products and about Macs. My laptop completely crashed and they were great! I was basing that trust on a couple of things. One, the fact that they worked at the store, but you know how it is. Sometimes you go to a place like that and you find out that the people who are working there don’t actually know what’s going on or they don’t actually know much. But in talking with them for a few minutes I realized that, “oh yeah! These guys are really competent.” So I placed a high level of cognitive trust in them. If I’m with a team, there may be few within a team that have different strengths or different skills that they are bringing in. I am going to trust that they are skilled and experienced that’s cognitive trust. That is very important for creativity. If you want to be creative with your team, you have to have that type of trust within your team. Now that is different with than with Lencioni’s talking about. But you can probably see there are some connection there.

[6:00] Affective Trust

The other type of trust which is a little bit more of Lencioni’s talking about is called Affective Trust. It’s an emotional trust that I have with somebody else. That is not as important for creativity. But I think it is very important in the sense that teams can collaborate together if they feel emotionally safe enough to share ideas, debate with each other, have some conflict which is what I talked about in Episode 23. So there’s a big connection between conflict and trust in teams. Listen to Episode 23 if you haven’t yet, I talked about how conflict impacts team creativity. So there are a couple of different types of trust. We need both of them to some degree. The cognitive trust is more important, but team members also need to feel emotionally safe enough that they can share their opinions and their perceptions. I am not afraid that if I throw out some stupid idea, that somebody is going to make fun of me in my team. If there is a sarcastic remark because of an idea that I share, basically, I am learning “oh don’t share ideas in this team.” So actually, if there is a high level of sarcasm in your team, watch out! Because that actually can decrease creativity. People may not be comfortable sharing if there is too much sarcasm. There are different types of sarcasm. There is a kind of fun, light sarcasm and then there is also that biting sarcasm that has some edge or a little bit of anger in it. That’s definitely something you want to avoid and get rid of.

[7:51] Why Trust Matters

Let’s talk about why trust matters. I mentioned a minute ago that trust and conflict work hand in hand. So I want to tell you about some research about trust and conflict and how they intersect. The first study was by Fairchild and Hunter in 2013. What they found was that originality was high in groups with a high level of task conflict and a high level of trust and emotional safety. So if people in the team felt comfortable with each other and they felt comfortable having conflict with each other, then creativity and originality was higher. However, when the group had a high level of trust and felt safe with each other, but had a low level of conflict with each other they were less creative. They basically became complacent. They have no impetus to challenge the status quo. So they are really comfortable with each other, but they weren’t pushing each other. They were not challenging each other at all. So they were not that creative. I think that is relevant because you want both of those things. You want the emotional safety and trust and you need that comfortableness with task conflict. I talked about task conflict in Episode 23, which is a type of conflict where we are negotiating and debating around ideas or concepts. We are not getting into an argument because of personalities. That’s not helpful. What they found in groups that had a low level of trust and a low level of conflict was that occasionally those groups would be highly creative, but that was because there would be at least one member who was highly creative and so that member really drove the process. But essentially, that group was more like a nominal group than a true team. A nominal group is just individuals that are individually contributing ideas, but they are not necessarily collaborating with each other. So again, if you have that collaborative team you want a high level of trust and a high level of task conflict. The next study is by Peltokorpi and Hasu 2013. And by the way I will put all these links  in the show notes so if you want to go read the original studies you absolutely can and I definitely recommend it if you are interested in that kind of thing. Participative safety and trust were the moderating factors between team size and innovation. So as a team got bigger, innovation also increased if there was a high level of trust and emotional safety. They also found that trust and emotional safety was positively correlated with the frequency of team meetings and task interdependence. So essentially, there is this positive relationship between a supportive climate supportive environment and the social interactions in teams. So if you want to help build trust amongst the team, well you have to interact with each other. We will talk more about that in a moment.

[11:12]  Innovation Organizations Foster Respect and Trust

In another study by Dougherty and Takacs 2004, they found innovation organizations foster a sense of respect and people trust each other to do their jobs. There was also this sense of willingness to join in, there is also a sense of fun and excitement about doing their work, there was definitely a lot of positivity.  Amabile and Kramer wrote an excellent book in 2011 and they are really curious about the connections between positive emotion and creativity. That book is called The Progress Principle. But Amabile and Kramer were looking at how a team’s inner work life impacts their performance, what’s going on internally inside their head, inside their heart, and how that impacts performance. What they found was that positive mood increases the likelihood of having a creative idea by 50%. But what was so cool is that positive mood impacted creative thinking the next day and sometimes even the day after. So having been in a really good mood on Monday could impact your creative output for three full days. Isn’t that amazing? In essence, you want to help create this positive supportive comfortable environment where people are respecting each other, they are trusting each other, and they are willing to have some conflicts.  It is not necessarily artificial harmony you know because sometimes from the outside that can look really good, but it is actually that we are so comfortable with each other, we trust each other and we know it is ok to disagree. That’s what will help a team be more creative.

[13:02] How Do You Actually Get There?

Let’s talk about how do you actually get there. What do you do with the team? So I often talk with my clients about this concept that, if we don’t know someone it makes it difficult to trust them. It doesn’t mean that we trust everyone we know, but we are more likely to trust someone we know than someone we don’t know. Because, of course, sometimes people that we know, they burn us. They do something that ruins the trust that we have with each other so that’s why we don’t always trust everyone that we know, but we don’t tend to trust people we don’t know. Therefore, helping team members get to know each other can build trust amongst the team. There’s so many ways to do this. Some of it may be especially if it is a newer team perhaps you do some sort of retreat together, you might even bring in an outside consultant, say somebody like me, to lead the group through that process. I’ve done this hundreds of times with organizations with teams where they just want “Hey we want somebody else to lead us through a process to build trust.” So I’ll present them with a series of activities so that they can get to know each other at a deeper level, a little bit of a different level than they might while they are sitting in their office in their cubicle. So that may be one thing  you decide to do, to have some sort of retreat or experience that you are providing for the team. I would say just a word of caution about that, is not every activity or every experience necessarily builds trust. For instance, taking your team out to a paintball course where they are all shooting each other all day. Not necessarily the best way to build trust. So just because they are doing things together doesn’t mean they are getting to know each other or learning to trust each other. Be somewhat critical of what activity you decide to do and you don’t have to do it that way that is just one idea.

[14:55] Meet Regularly

Another thing you might want to do is you want to meet regularly. I don’t know what regularly means that could be different with every team. Some teams that’s going to be meeting every single day. Other teams might be once a week. It might be once a month. Depending on the kind of work you do might even be twice a day, if the work is that intense and you need to check in frequently. At those meetings, if you are meeting twice a day you don’t need to do this at every meeting, but typically at those meetings you might want to start out with some sort of inclusion activity. I talked in a earlier episode about this and I am not talking about icebreakers. I am not talking about these activities that get people so frustrated because they seem irrelevant. What I am talking about is a way where everybody in the room gets to share something about themselves, but perhaps it’s related to the task at hand. It is related to whatever topic you are going to talk about or whatever you are going to explore that day. But it is an opportunity for people to share who they are. This could be just going around the circle and everybody is sharing. It could be working in small groups for five or ten minutes. There is a number of different ways to do this. But when you are meeting regularly have some way as part of that meeting where people are getting to know each other. I have been in meetings with teams where the only person who did the talking was the Team Leader. And so that is the only person that anyone got to know and even then it was very one sided the Team Leader was not getting to know the rest of the team. So, I am a big fan of meetings that are more collaborative in nature. Which leads to point number three. So the first thing I said was to help them Get to Know each other. The Second thing was to Meet Regularly and to set up some activities as part of those meetings.

[16:41] Collaboration Increases Creativity

The Third thing is really for the Team Leader and that is to set up an environment that is actually collaborative. Collaboration increases creativity. So if you want your team to be creative you want to teach them how to be collaborative together and help them understand that. At earlier episode I talked about The Seven Norms of Collaboration I think that was episode 17. I will put a link in the show notes to that. The Seven Norms of Collaboration are great tool to increase creativity. But one of the ways to ruin creativity and I have seen leaders do this. It is so frustrating! The Leader will go to the Team and say “ok team, I want your input we need your ideas, here’s the situation” and they spend a lot of time collecting ideas from the team and then, they go and do whatever their original idea was. So they are just going through the motions. They are pretending that they are gathering these ideas. Then what the team learns is that you actually don’t really care about our ideas so why should we bother? It is an excellent way to ruin creativity and to ruin collaboration within the team and to ruin trust. Don’t do that. I am trying to think if there is ever a reason as to why you might do that and I can’t come up with one. Avoid that. Be honest with your team. Basically that’s what it looks like. It looks like you are not being honest with them. Now it could be that you gather all these ideas from them and then you present them to perhaps somebody else who is ultimately making the decision and they don’t like the ideas. Be upfront with your team about that process so that they know what’s happening and they understand how these ideas are going to be used. Just pay attention to really focusing on developing that collaboration within the team because that will help increase trust. Be careful that you don’t ruin it by essentially lying to the team. They get it. They see it. Don’t burn yourself by saying you need something, but really you are just trying to look like collaboration. People are not stupid. They can see this. They may never tell you about it. But trust me they are talking about it amongst themselves. That leads to another point, which is a sign that a team is not functional or not doing well is if there is a meeting after the meeting. So if a team is comfortable enough with each other they trust each other enough that what needs to be said is being said during the meeting, that’s a really good thing. But if after the meeting we are all talking about the meeting. “Oh my gosh I can’t believe this happened. I wanted to say this, but I don’t want to. I was uncomfortable.” That’s a sign that there is not a high level of trust within the team. So let me review the ways to build trust.

[19:35] ] Ways to Build Trust

  1. Get To Know Each Other. Set up some structured situations where team members can get to know each other.
  2. Meet Regularly. Again, that’s going to vary from team to team but you want to have some regular meetings and then during those meetings have some structure time where people are sharing. It is helpful If you can make it related to the topic. Sometimes I think people get frustrated, depending on their personality, if we are just sharing “talk about your favorite vacation” but then that has nothing to do with the actual topic, sometimes people feel that is a waste of time. If you are going to do that, perhaps many of the team members feel that it is valuable, then talk about why you are doing that so that people don’t feel like it is wasting their time.
  3. Pay Attention that You Are Not Burning Trust by lying to your team, especially if you are a Team Leader. If you are asking for their input, actually use it, listen, set up a climate of collaboration. That’s going to really help build trust amongst the team.

So those are three ways you can build trust amongst the team. I hope that’s helpful. I hope you try some of them. Sometimes these techniques can be looked down upon because “oh my gosh we have so much to do, we don’t have time to go around and share with each other.” But what’s so interesting is when you do that it helps later on and it helps you go faster. Somebody that I worked with in the past whom I absolutely adored, I don’t know her super well, but she is pretty amazing. Her name is Carolyn McCanders she works for the organization Thinking Collaborative. I mentioned them on Episode 17. Anyways she is fond of saying “go slow to go fast.” I have seen that works in so many times that we are going to slow down a little bit and we are going to know each other and we are going to set up some structure here and that is going to help us  get to our end goal even quicker.

So those are few ideas on how you can build trust and why trust matters. Like I said I will put the references in the show notes all the research articles I have mentioned the books and the links to the other episodes that I referenced.

[21:49] Weekly Challenge

So your challenge for the week is to figure out what can you do to help build trust within your team. Which of these things can you do? If you are a Team Leader talk to your team about these concepts and then institute one of them at least, maybe one of the get to know you things or setting up some regular meetings if you don’t do that already. If you are not a Team Leader go talk to your Team Leader and ask about these and have them listen to this podcast if you want or share with them some of the research articles that I put on the show notes. The link to the show notes is Climerconsulting.com/028. This is episode 28. You could also just go to climerconsulting.com then click on podcast you will find all the episodes and the show notes for all the episodes in there. I just want to make one final request at least a final request for today to go complete that survey about teams if you haven’t already creativesynergyscale.com or you can find a link on Facebook or on the show notes. It would take you about ten minutes. Some people a little less some people a little bit more and like I said in the beginning of this episode a few people have emailed me and just said, “thank you so much. I love that this really helped me think about my team and helped me reflect more “ In fact I was just this morning I was at a meeting of consultants in Madison and this woman shared with the entire group, there was like 40 people there, and she shared that she had just taken the survey and it help her think about how she works with the team that she works with and it helped her think about her role as a consultant. All of that from this little, simple survey. Alright you all. Have a wonderful week! Go out help your team build trust and build creativity. Email me if you have any questions and I will talk to you next week. Bye!

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