4 Questions to Build Trust in a Team

“How can I support you in the work you are doing?”

On the surface, it seems like a simple question. But when sales leaders pose it to their team, the impact on team bonding can be mighty, because it immediately encourages vulnerability and establishes trust. As a leader, it demonstrates you care about your team’s well-being and professional achievement. Your people can feel safe asking for guidance — no matter how difficult the journey ahead gets.

Vulnerability and trust are essential elements of leadership. It means giving others the benefit of the doubt and believing in the goodness of intentions. Trust can’t be demanded or assumed. Instead, leaders must earn trust through words and actions.

By promoting authentic, open communication and vulnerability, you set the stage for a high-performing work environment. Leaders who speak honestly about challenges they face and are overcoming empower team members to openly share their own challenges.

Why It’s Critical to Establish Trust

We’re hardwired to seek connections with our fellow humans, but those connections don’t always happen on their own. That’s our responsibility as leaders.

According to a 2021 Gallup Panel survey, only 23% of employees “strongly agree” that they trust their leadership. That significant lack of trust isn’t just an internal problem – it ultimately translates to worse outcomes for your customers.

When you do invest the time to cultivate trust, the payoff can be a source of tremendous competitive advantage, by encouraging creativity, inspiring innovation and building deeper relationships.

Creating Space for Creativity

Creativity thrives in an environment of trust and vulnerability. To be creative is to reveal a hidden part of yourself without knowing how other people will react. Even the most creative people will struggle if trust is low and vulnerability is viewed as a weakness.

Inspiring Innovation

Innovation is daring to disrupt the status quo. We often think of innovators as bold and brash, but that ignores the uncertainty and hard work involved. Innovation is about trial and error, with no guarantee of finding success. You need to trust others — and yourself — while being vulnerable enough to fail –  sometimes over and over again.

Building Meaningful Relationships

To build connections that matter, you need to be approachable and empathetic. You don’t have to make grand gestures; you can lend an ear to a colleague or show interest in what someone says. Those small acts create trust and allow others to be vulnerable with you. That’s where deep and authentic connections begin to form.

4 Questions to Build Trust in a Team

Over the years, I’ve developed a series of four questions a leader can ask to help you quickly build trust in a team.

This exercise works for new teams and ones that have just found themselves slipping into unhealthy patterns. I’ve seen it firsthand inspire more authentic, open and vulnerable conversations. Let’s explore each of these questions and how you can use them to cultivate meaningful two-way conversations with your team.

What’s Something You Can Be Grateful for Right Now?

Begin the journey toward greater trust and vulnerability by accentuating the positive. If you’re asked this question, look around and take a second to reflect: What can you be thankful for right now? How can you share that with your counterpart? As the leader asking the question, how can you celebrate with them?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Your answer can be simple, like the cup of coffee you had that morning, or complex and profound, such as overcoming a health crisis or reconnecting with a loved one.

This question opens up the floor to let people speak freely and candidly about what they’re grateful for while revealing something about who they are.

What’s Something You’re Struggling With or Could Use Support With Right Now?

Answering this question can be difficult. Maybe you’re fearful of rejection. Perhaps you can’t even admit to yourself that you need support. But this powerful icebreaker can be the first step toward finding real solutions. For some people, the chance to answer this question can overcome their fear of being hurt, especially if they have longstanding trust issues.

Again, these answers can range widely, touching on personal or professional obstacles. You might be struggling with job performance or work-life balance. You might not be sure how to take that next step in your career. As a leader, when you listen deeply and affirm your employees’ answers, you’re building a trusting relationship. You might even be able to provide actionable solutions.

This same question can help you overcome sales obstacles. Make your customers’ challenge your challenge, and support them in solving it.

What Have You Learned Recently and Plan to Implement to Make a Change?

Top professionals know there’s always something new to learn. This question allows every team member to name something they can improve — for themselves and the business.

Leaders set the tone here, too. If you can admit that you’re a work in progress in team meetings, you’re showing vulnerability and giving permission for your team to do the same. And when everyone does this, you’ve got a group that’s been vulnerable and has seen they can trust each other.

What’s a Personal Fun Fact About You That Not Too Many People Know?

Trust and vulnerability aren’t just about work. Revealing a fun fact can change someone’s perspective of you for the better. And because you trust them, they can trust you with a fun fact of their own.

For example, your newest sales hire shares that they run a marathon every year. You know right away that they are willing to put preparation,  dedication and a ton of effort into achieving goals that are important to them. You know they have physical and mental endurance. And you know they don’t rest on their laurels because there’s another marathon to run the following year.

What Do Trust and Vulnerability Look Like on Your Team?

You won’t always be able to run my questions to build trust in a team exercise for every situation. But there are many ways for leaders to begin practicing vulnerability at work. Try adding these simple steps to your routine to strengthen employee engagement:

  • Admit when you need help.
  • Tell people how they can support you.
  • Clarify that the support you’re offering is really what they need.
  • Let go of ego.
  • Have courageous conversations.

Trust and vulnerability flourish on teams where people can freely communicate, connect, and try and grow — and get back up and try again if they fail. Leaders create these teams when they show up as their whole selves, embrace vulnerability, and empower others to do the same. How can you inspire trust and vulnerability in your organization?

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