How to Accelerate Trust Building for Collaborative Teams

 In Collaboration, Leadership, Teamwork

Trust building reduces frictions and increases the effectiveness of collaborative teams. Without it, you’ll see symptoms like an artificial sense of team harmony, a lot of talking and not so much doing and resistance change.

Early in my career I worked for a company where people were undermining others. It was an unhealthy and un-collaborative workplace. Fortunately, we were taken over by a company with a strong culture and only a few of us kept our jobs. Going to work every day became pure joy – we were giving our best because we had trust in each other. It was way above where we’d come from.

What is collaboration?

Collaboration is the process you go through to go through to get to an end result. It could include developing a new product, process, policy, joint venture, alliance, partnership or simply creating a new way of working. It is hard because you are always balancing the goals of the individual contributors with the collective goal that you’re all working towards.

From my own hands-on work in the collaboration field, I find trust building is supported when all members:

  • Visibly contribute to the collaborative goal
  • Champion transparency; and
  • Behave in a consistent manner.

It sounds great on paper, but what can you actually do to accelerate the trust building process?

Last week I ran an “hour of power” session for a cross-functional project team at a major university. It has members from administration, faculty, student services and student representatives. It is shifting from the conceptual to the design stage and the project manager needs members to commit to more hands-on work.

We identified that trust building was required, and here’s three features we included to accelerate it:

1. Bond without bonding

The trust between people increases when they discover things in common, and gets boosted even more when they find something unexpected or unusual. Orchestrate quick and easy exercises to help people get to know each other in a fun and fast way! For them it feels more like an icebreaker or warmup activity so that’s why I call it “bond without bonding”. Trust building by stealth.

2. Opening up about the challenges of being a group member

The human and change management aspects of projects are just as, if not more, important than technical factors. People won’t engage if they have reservations, concerns or limitations. Giving them a chance to talk about their own challenges acts as a release valve. In our project session, one group member spoke about the busyness of her normal role and how she was finding it hard to be fully present and committed to this project.

As a facilitator or session leader, create the right environment for people to talk about their issues. You can’t always solve their problems, however they tend to get more engaged once they’ve been listened to. They may also find that other people have the same problem and getting it out in the open is helpful.

3. Mapping out the common goal in a neutral language

Group members usually want the same overall outcome, they just have different ways of expressing what that outcome looks like. Ask them what success looks like from their perspective and reframe their views in a common language that everyone understands.

In our session, people gave a range of quantitative and qualitative indicators. Some looked more like activities (eg. defining and agreeing on what we mean by “wellbeing”) and some looked more like longer term outcomes (eg. “the strategy is integrated into our standard operating procedures”).

This is excellent data that informs your project aims and builds trust.

Getting off on the right foot

I’d encourage anyone in the early stages of bringing collaborative teams together to make use of the above three methods for accelerating the trust building process. It will save you time, money and, very likely, lost sleep.

Phil Preston is a collaboration speaker, facilitator and strategist. You can stay in touch by following him on Linked Incontacting him directly or using the form below to opt in to occasional emails.

Commercial images courtesy of

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment