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What can leaders do to build trust with their team?

Published on February 6th, 2024

Having trust in the workplace is essential for any organization to run effectively and efficiently. But, it’s not always easy to generate and maintain trust among team members. We naturally trust others, so, why is a lack of trust one of the greatest risks to an organization?  

Leaders play a key role in creating a culture of trust, and there are certain steps they can take to build an environment conducive to fostering true trust. This article will explore what leaders can do to build trust with their teams.  We will discuss how these actions lead to improved productivity, morale, and a sense of collaboration within the workplace. By understanding the importance of establishing trust and implementing the steps, leaders can create the foundation for a successful team.   

How can leaders build trust? 

Leaders need to take initiative to build trust with their team members if they want their organization to succeed. Trust is something that cannot be easily established, it takes time, effort, and openness on both sides – the team and the leader. According to research by The Economist magazine, an astonishing 55% of CEOs consider a lack of trust a fundamental risk to their organizations.  

This lack of trust often manifests in a lack of psychological safety within teams – i.e., feeling secure and comfortable taking risks around one’s colleagues. Leaders can use CQ (Cultural Intelligence) to bridge this gap and create an environment in which their team can interact freely and build trusting relationships with each other as well as with the manager. With enhanced CQ, leaders will be able to better understand how different cultures operate, enabling everyone – regardless of origin or background – to perform optimally together as part of a high-functioning team. 

The precondition for psychological safety – a culturally intelligent leader 

Psychological safety (PS) is an essential environment for any team to succeed. It’s a culture in which people are safe to have their opinions heard, disagree without fear of judgment, and experiment without worrying about the consequences of failure. When a team lacks PS, it can have serious impacts on morale and productivity; this is especially true when team members feel they must remain silent in the presence of concentrated power dynamics between themselves and their leader.  

As an example, consider a hypothetical workplace situation in which one person is reluctant to call out their leader’s idea that they think is badly thought-through, but fear that if they do so, they will be labeled as reactionary and always complaining. In such a situation, somebody does not feel comfortable raising recurring questions or expressing constructive criticisms – trappings of a culture where psychological safety has not been cultivated for group collaboration of any meaningful sort. Crafting a culturally intelligent leadership style is key to building trust with one’s team and ensuring PS in the workplace. 

How CQ helps?   

Building trust with a team requires leaders to be culturally intelligent and to foster a culture where differences are acknowledged, accepted, and embraced. Culturally intelligent leaders display traits such as valuing diversity, being open to different perspectives, and celebrating their team’s successes.  

They also take responsibility for mistakes and embrace collaboration as a way of getting the best out of their team. These behaviors help build trust within the team because everyone feels respected, heard, and valued which encourages transparency and creates an environment of mutual respect. In this kind of environment, teams can confidently create projects together knowing that their ideas will be taken seriously – creating strong bonds among members and resulting in success in any endeavor. 

How to get it “right”?   

A leader’s goal should always be to build a trusting team. A great way to start is by understanding where your team is at in terms of the Timothy R. Clark model: Inclusion, Learner, Contributor, and Challenger. This model will help you determine what type of activities and messages are needed for each category.  

Additionally, educating and promoting the CARE model can be highly beneficial. Communication, Authenticity, Respect, and Empathy all allow team members an opportunity to grow as individuals while in turn building trust with other members. Understanding that trust is no small feat and requires hard work and dedication is an important first step before attempting to implement models like these into your team dynamic. 

Leading a team starts with trust 

Leading a team effectively starts with creating trust between the leader and their team. Building trust requires the leader to take the necessary steps to develop relationships based on mutual respect and confidence. By looking for areas of similarity, both personal and professional, great leaders can start to create a foundation of trust. This type of psychological safety allows teams to be productive, creative, and honest without fear of reprimand or judgment.  

The end result is a more efficient working environment with reduced stress and improved well-being. Ultimately, creating an environment where employees feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions and make mistakes without fear of repercussion will lead to greater success on all fronts. Businesses that prioritize psychological safety enjoy increased innovation, collaboration, satisfaction, commitment from employees, and engagement from customers – proving that investing in creating trust pays off. Therefore, it’s clear investing in a psychologically safe workplace is well worth the effort for leaders that want their teams to thrive. 


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