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The important role of trust in high performing teams. 


The important role of trust in high performing teams.  The important role of trust in high performing teams. 

Key Takeaways

  • High-performing teams value constructive feedback and actively foster a culture of trust.
  • Remote work can contribute to higher performance levels when teams are effective in their communication efforts.
  • Trust is earned through openness, proactive engagement, and consistent reporting on metrics.
  • Leaders should promote vulnerability and reward it, building relationships based on honesty and authenticity.
  • To reconnect with disconnected teams or individuals, focus on building deeper connections through vulnerability and communication rather than control.

Listen: The important role of trust in high performing teams. 

Today, we're bringing you highlights from our recent LinkedIn Live session on fostering trust within teams featuring Aquent's Susie Hall and Sarah-Tyler (ST) Moore and author Margot Bloomstein.

Drawing from Aquent's latest Talent Insights Report and Margot's research from her book, ‘Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap,' the conversation was packed with insights on the role of trust in high-performing teams and practical tips for leaders to build and promote trust. 

Read for key takeaways from the discussion and learn how to leverage trust to supercharge your team's performance.

What stood out to you most from this report?

Margot Bloomstein highlighted how the report excellently outlines the attributes of high-performing teams, yet she found it surprising that only 77% of such teams value and cultivate constructive feedback. There appears to be significant room for enhancement in this area. Margot believes that environments that encourage open feedback promote growth throughout the teams career. There is a need to contemplate how to better demonstrate, reward, and instruct feedback practices.

Susie Hall found it interesting that only 46% of low-to-moderately performing teams reported valuing constructive feedback. This indicates that refining feedback practices could benefit all team categories.

There is an immense opportunity to nurture a culture of feedback within teams. It's challenging to imagine a high-performing team that doesn't prioritize feedback, as it's crucial for growth. Even if a team is meeting its objectives and performing effectively, the fear of giving or receiving honest feedback could hinder reaching their full potential.

By promoting a feedback-friendly environment and demonstrating vulnerability, healthier avenues can be provided for team members to grow, express frustrations, and enhance their work. If individuals feel they cannot share freely, it could lead to problems like burnout, high turnover, or even unproductive behavior like gossiping in private channels.

What stood out most to ST relates to remote work. Like Margot, she has personal experience with this. She's been working remotely to some extent since before 2020, and Aquent has demonstrated that remote work is effective.

What struck her was that while 45% of respondents work remotely, 66% of those remote teams identify as high-performing compared to only 47% of on-site teams. It's surprising that the benefits of remote work still need proving when they seem so apparent. 

It seems so obvious to me. I'm a working mom myself. I can walk down and get my kid off the bus. So I'm spending more time when I work from home on actual work.

ST Moore

As a working parent, she finds that without the commute and distractions of the office, she can be a more present mother and get more work done when she is working. 

Do companies that resist remote work not trust their employees?

ST believes the resistance to remote work is due to a few factors. Trust is one, and comfort zone is another. Many leaders feel more at ease seeing work carried out in the office, where they can have impromptu conversations without much planning. Remote work requires mindful communication, which might seem more demanding.

There might also be a generational aspect. Younger generations often prefer remote work, while those in management, typically from older generations, might be more accustomed to traditional, in-office work.

It also has to do with how productivity is measured. 

Historically, organizations have measured productivity in very quantitative ways that are only about butts in seats and time in the office … It almost becomes a correlation-versus-causation problem.

Margot Bloomstein

But it's time to change that mindset. What really matters is if someone is meeting their goals, contributing to the team and company, and feeling happy in their job, regardless of how many hours they work.

In order to bring about this change, Margot suggests that team members discuss how their productivity is assessed and acknowledged with their managers. If it's not solely based on time spent in the office, we should openly acknowledge that. There are other ways to measure success that aren't tied to a specific location.

Building upon this, Susie shared that it's common to feel frustrated with your situation if you don't feel supported. That's why it's essential for everyone, regardless of their role, to ask questions and engage in open dialogue with their managers. This will create an atmosphere where communication is encouraged, and everyone's voice is heard.

One of the viewer's comments touches on culture-building and rewarding behaviors. It stated that some managers feel they lack control unless everyone is physically present in the office, disregarding data and productivity loss due to needless interruptions.

ST underscored the necessity of discussing control when it comes to leadership. She argued, however, that authentic leadership isn't about control but rather about outcomes, culture, and ensuring everyone feels productive. A leader who values diverse perspectives values autonomy over control. By granting individuals the liberty to work in ways that fulfill them and advance the company's bottom line, we can enhance performance.

Building seamlessly on ST's point, Margot offered a nuanced perspective. She noted that managers who find solace solely in the visible labor of their employees are poised for a dramatic paradigm shift when faced with the fallout of high staff turnover. The stark reality of the costs—both financial and cultural—linked with the constant recruitment and training of new hires, as opposed to retaining existing staff, will inevitably prompt these managers to reevaluate their priorities and approach to management.

Is trust earned or given?

Margot explained that trust is a two-way street. She stated how brands, leaders, and managers need to earn the trust of their audience or team. In a brand context, this can be achieved by empowering customers with more information to make informed decisions, like revealing product roadmaps or providing educational material.

For team managers, building trust involves encouraging open communication and fostering a culture of feedback. If a team member expresses uncertainty or a need for additional training, supporting them rather than criticizing them is crucial. Publicly acknowledging the power of saying “I don't know” and seeking more information also contributes to this trust-building process.

Cultivating a culture that encourages open communication, sharing knowledge, and admitting what one doesn't know creates a trust-based environment grounded in vulnerability.

ST stressed the importance of reciprocal trust in a team or organization, which heavily leans on one's role. According to her, when a manager shows trust, it's more about showcasing their personal integrity rather than simply reflecting on the individuals within their team.

One of the most perplexing things that I realized on my management journey is the times where you're vulnerable, the times where you make mistakes, and you own those mistakes openly with your team; that actually creates more communication and trust.

ST Moore

This theme of vulnerability and trust extends beyond the professional environment into families and communities. Margot cites one example from her research in which doctors promoted vaccination. Trusted medical professionals who admit their initial skepticism about a new therapy or drug, explain their research process, and express their current beliefs have the potential to improve public health significantly.

In a corporate setting, when a leader makes a mistake, such as sending an inappropriate ‘reply all' email, owning up to the mistake and outlining steps for improvement can model how to apologize publicly and improve. This helps earn and show trust in many ways. 

What kind of ROI do leaders think they will get from returning to office? 

Margot points out that productivity often hinges on effective communication, which can occur in various settings. In some corporate cultures, physical presence may facilitate spontaneous conversations and social connections. Yet, in other cases, teams can effectively communicate via tools like Zoom or Slack, regardless of their location.

Susie added that forcing people to return to the office might disrupt community norms established during remote work periods. The expectation of a return on investment (ROI) from having employees back in the office seems misguided, considering the positive impacts of remote work on aspects like diversity and inclusion and accommodating working parents, caregivers, and individuals with disabilities.

As for building trust and engaging in change, it's a process that requires the consistent modeling of trust-building behaviors and encouragement. The time it takes to see signs of improvement can vary significantly depending on the specific context and individuals involved.

As a leader [and] as a manager, you need to be leading by example. So you need to be doing the things that you're asking your team to do and practicing what you preach.

ST Moore

ST continued by saying when leaders are actively engaged with their teams, trust can naturally grow by building authentic relationships. If the behavior isn't being modeled or clearly communicated at the highest levels of an organization, there's room for improvement. Even the best middle manager can only do so much if the company's top-level messaging doesn't align with the importance of trust. This presents an opportunity for organizations to clearly state their values and prioritize trust.

Building trust within a team can start with establishing clear and consistent communication about goals and success metrics. Margot outlines why it's important to define what these terms mean within the context of your team to avoid confusion. This process, often referred to as establishing a message architecture, can significantly impact an organization.

Once you have a clear rubric for consistency, you can better determine the level of detail needed in communication. This applies to both visual and verbal communication, whether it's to internal teams, external stakeholders, or even customers.

The amount of detail in reports, diagrams, or public apologies should align with established practices. Any deviation may seem unusual and could undermine trust. Therefore, it's crucial to establish models for how things are done and stick to them.

To foster trust within a team, it's beneficial to document practices in style guidelines or a content design system. Consistency in adhering to these guidelines builds credibility.

Promoting vulnerability and rewarding it is another effective way to nurture trust. For example, recognizing and applauding those who take risks or provide feedback can encourage a culture of trust.

Small actions can make a significant impact on building this culture. There are many resources available, like books and reports, that reinforce why trust is crucial for high-performing teams.

What is the most important thing a leader can do to regain the trust of their team if it has been lost? 

To regain lost trust, honesty is essential. Acknowledge the issue directly, express understanding of how it might have affected team members, and clearly outline how things will improve moving forward.

Avoid overloading with data or justifying the mistake. What matters to the team is that a mistake was made and trust was broken. They want to understand how to get back on track and whether there's a genuine intention to do so.

As a leader, if you genuinely believe in the message you're conveying and it comes from a place of authenticity, it will resonate with your team. This approach emphasizes the importance of authenticity in leadership.

The single most thing a leader can do to regain trust when they have lost it, or even if they feel they personally have not lost it, but it has been decayed within the team, is to apologize. To take responsibility for it in the first person. So say I am sorry.

Margot Bloomstien 

It's also important to recognize the problem explicitly and express regret for not addressing it sooner. Then, outline how things will be different moving forward, using inclusive language like “we're going to do more to recognize your work” or “we're going to share more of our work within the organization.”

In addition, leaders should specify what they personally will do differently to prevent similar issues in the future. This could involve recognizing team members' contributions more frequently or tracking individual goals during reviews.

In essence, an effective apology involves acknowledging the issue, taking personal responsibility, outlining a plan for change, and ensuring that everyone feels included in the new direction.


Final thoughts on the role of trust in high-performing teams include:

  • Keep it simple and go with your instinct: If your team needs flexibility to engage effectively, provide it.
  • Leaders have a significant impact on trust: The way leaders respond to situations (like a team member falling ill) can greatly influence team dynamics and psychological safety.
  • Prioritize mental health: Managers should work on themselves and consider their teams' needs for mental health. 
  • Focus on communication and rapport within the team: Real estate isn't the ultimate solution for building trust; the focus should be on improving communication and relationships within the team.
  • Reward good communication and vulnerability: If you're a leader, find out how your team members want to be rewarded and encourage a culture of open communication and feedback.
  • Clearly define expectations: If you want your team to consistently do something, clearly define what that is and model it so they can embrace it too.

Thank you to Margot, ST, and Susie for a great conversation on trust in the workplace. Stay tuned on LinkedIn for upcoming LinkedIn Live events. In the meantime, for more insights on high-performing teams, remote work, and the role of generative AI, download the full Talent Insights Report.