Without trust, it’s impossible for a team to be healthy and effective.
The absence of trust is used as the foundation for Patrick Lencioni’s well-known leadership parable called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In this book, Lencioni outlines five problems that many teams face, and every dysfunction grows from the root cause of distrust. If your team has any hope of thriving, building and maintaining trust must be a key priority. __
Trust is the starting point for all healthy relationships, the fuel for team ministry, and the cornerstone of group effectiveness.Stephen Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Team
For Christian teams, the topic of trust extends beyond the team. Trusting God is a team’s top priority. God is the one who can take a team much further than they could go on their own. However, trusting one another is also vitally important because growing relationships nurtures deeper trust. Let me suggest four ways that we can develop relational trust in our teams:
Humour & Light-Heartedness
It is ideal when teams can share humour and light-hearted moments as natural parts of their group life. This can be cultivated with greater intentionality by planning social events and fun activities. Celebrate milestones and successes that your team has accomplished and do the same for the individuals that make up your team (this will vary depending on group size). Consider events like potlucks, games nights, and team retreats. In addition to adding fun to your working atmosphere, these functions will provide people with opportunities to exchange laughter and create memories together.
Personal Sharing & Prayer
The second way to build trust is by creating spaces for personal sharing and prayer. When people are vulnerable with one another, the trust level goes way up. And when people take the initiative to follow up with those who have disclosed important news, your group will see how much their members truly care for each other.
Everyone appreciates being cared for and group leaders can model this by acknowledging the highs and lows experienced by the people on their team. Support those who are currently struggling by giving them time to share and grieving along with them. Celebrate with team members when they experience answers to prayers.
Your team can grow deeper relationships by developing strong lines of communication. When people aren’t sure what’s happening, they can begin to feel unsafe and it can become difficult to trust others when you feel threatened in some way. Team leaders need to make sure that people know what they need to know. Henry and Richard Blackaby suggest that leaders have three major tools for providing real time information to team members: technology (i.e. email, social media, online meeting platforms), architecture (the physical layout where a team meets can help or hinder communication), and regular, face-to-face team meetings.
In addition, it’s important that team members develop strong interpersonal communication skills. John Maxwell provides some standards of communication in his book Developing the Leader Within You: stay current and be consistent, clear, courteous, supportive, and vulnerable.
Facilitate Constructive Conflict
A final way to strengthen team cohesion is by facilitating constructive conflict. Groups who learn how to disagree and fight in healthy ways will often grow closer. Of course, this often requires that team members are coached on how to engage in respectful and constructive conflict – principles like expecting the best of the other person; being fair and generous; recognizing that others may see important things that are currently beyond your scope; focusing on ideas, not personalities; seeking a win-win solution that combines the best of multiple perspectives into something even better than any one person could generate.
In the process, people are drawn closer to each other because they have weathered the storms of conflict together and have emerged from the turbulence in a better place.
Before I proposed to my wife Lore, I purchased an engagement ring and secretly developed a plan to pop the question to her down by the river on her parent’s farm—a place with many special memories. The only challenge was the 13-hour-drive we had to take to get there! We argued almost the entire way! But as we worked through our disagreements, I realized that I loved Lore more than ever.
A couple of days later, we climbed out on a tree that was suspended over the river and I proposed. Now this was the true test—if Lore had been harbouring ill feelings about our drive out, she could easily have pushed me into the river! But she didn’t, and thankfully, she said yes. This life-changing memory is a vivid reminder to me that conflict can build stronger relationships.
Trust can be a leader’s greatest ally, but it doesn’t grow without intentional effort. By focusing on these four strategies, you can shape an environment of healthy comradery that can propel your team to new levels of achievement and satisfaction.
[Randy Wollf is Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies and Director of the ACTS World Campus.