How to Create a Culture of Trust with Your Team (According to My Team)

by Samantha Villenave

I consider myself blessed to have a small yet diverse group of people to work with, and I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how our team culture can be a place of safety and growth for each of us. Each member of a team or organization has a different role to play, and as a manager, it is easy to become blind to my own faults. That is a terrible trap since as Christian leaders we are called to be conduits of goodness, growth, and favor in the lives of those around us. I strongly believe that laying a foundation of trust is the ground upon which we can all grow! To that end, I polled my own team to see what they felt were the most important elements needed in order to create a culture of trust. Here’s what they said:


1. Host open communication:

When in doubt, be honest… and be yourself! Transparency in leadership not only creates a safe, fun and friendly environment, but it encourages your team to give their best. Create an environment that allows others to also be themselves, speak their minds, and challenge ideas that they may disagree with or have input for.


2. Make your coworkers feel like their opinions matter:

Don’t hide behind roles and hierarchy. It doesn't matter who is right, it matters what is right. Receiving feedback from your team and honestly taking the time to understand their point of view or ideas, is a critical element not only to your team culture but the success of your projects.


3. Accountability (with a side of patience):

Nobody needs a micro-manager, but don’t be afraid to check in on that project or approaching deadline either. Adapt to each employee, as there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach to corporate human relations. Sow into their strengths and speak into their weaknesses with gentleness. Encourage someone at least 20 times for each 1 time you correct, and let your corrections feel like coaching. Take time beforehand to consider the person and how you can speak life into the issue.


4. Let your team know that it's okay to make mistakes:

Unless you yourself have arrived at perfection (which none of us have!) show grace at every occasion possible, particularly when correcting a task that may need your input or approval. Avoid giving negative feedback through writing, as the tone can easily be felt negatively by the one receiving it. Take some time with the person and show them how you see things, but the approach should be for their training and development, not a correction. No employee is ever going to be inside of your head, and they shouldn’t have to be. And it’s important to convey that sometimes these talks don’t indicate a “mistake”, but rather a course correction, towards the vision that you or the company carry.    


5. Let your team know that you value the work they are doing:

Don’t stop saying “Thank You” just because someone is receiving a paycheck. Never miss an opportunity to celebrate a win or show appreciation. The energy that you spend showing people that they are valued is a worthy investment! Everyone needs to feel appreciated, and that their efforts are important.


6. Share credit for wins, and accept responsibility for problems:

If your team experiences a win, do all you can to shift credit to those who you are leading who contributed to the win. If your team is facing a problem that was not caused intentionally, or by ill-will, assume maximum responsibility while using the moment to teach and train. From the outside, your team should shine.


7. Cultivate non-work conversations:

News flash: people aren’t robots. They have lives. So do you. If you’re going to build a culture of trust a natural openness about non-work real-them and real-you is going to happen. Stop counting the clock and salary hours when someone tells you about their weekend. Relax. If you are creating a work environment that causes people to be passionate about what they are doing, the work will get done. And it’ll probably get done better since no one is being treated like a mindless machine.


8. Understand strengths and weaknesses (I.E. personality tests):

Strengths Finder, Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, DISC Assessments... There are all sorts of tools, training, and coaching that you can use to develop and understand each other as a team. Understanding each of your individual team member's strengths and motivations can be an incredible driving force. Remaining self-aware and understanding ourselves as we relate to others and seek to understand them can create a valuable harmony and mutual respect as you seek to create a culture of trust within your team.


9. Bribe your team with doughnuts:

Bribery? (My team said it, not me!)


10. Bribery with doughnuts is always the best idea!! (These are my team’s words… Perhaps I should paraphrase?) Do not miss out on opportunities to show appreciation:

My team liked the “bribery with doughnuts” idea so much they said it twice. So, don’t forget the treats! Donuts. Team lunches, or if your organization won’t pay for those, at least coffee. (Come on, you can afford that!) Don’t penny pinch when it comes to small gestures that will go far in making the work day just a little brighter.


11. Be honest and truthful:

You don’t need to tell your team everything, but please do tell them what you can. Tell them what is beneficial to them in order to be in the loop, do their jobs, and know that they have a grasp of the vision and direction that things are moving towards. If you can’t say everything due to confidentiality or their best interest, at least speak the truth. Don’t allow hierarchy to create a wall of silence. Lack of communication will kill trust in any culture.


12. Show your team members that you care about them as people:

People and relationships are more important than tasks and jobs. If you truly value people, you will maintain flexibility with each one, and have their best interest in mind, even if it does not always go in your direction. Trust God that as you care for people He will give you the wisdom to balance the professional aspect, but it is always better to have too much concern for the well being of your employees than too little.


13. You know… actually LEADING. 

One of my team members stated, “This is one of those ones that seems like a “duh” but will actually make or break my trust for a leader.” While you are working hard to create this culture of trust, never forget that you are to lead. Sowing into the lives of your team members does not mean that you are cowering before every need and emotion and focused on non-work things instead of the vision. Don’t be afraid to push the vision, and to strive for excellence. Lead, and lead strongly. Carry the vision and communicate it with your own efforts and hard work. Delegate and show the way. And if you are leading strongly, you should already be training your team to replace you, as the vision grows!