How to Rebuild Trust in a Team

Fatima Shaikh
November 25, 2022

There’s a famous quote by philosopher Aristotle that goes “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

The same can be said for a team. It takes many variables and characteristics for a team to be successful, and the level of trust in the team is one of the most important variables contributing to its success and efficiency. A team’s performance depends on how its members feel free to express themselves, how confident they are in each other, and how they rely on their leaders. This is why building trust is already a difficult goal to accomplish when you’re starting out as a team. But if that trust is lost due to a conflict or failure, the future of working together remains blurry if you don't make efforts to rekindle it.

When trust is lacking, the whole team suffers. The functional behaviors that describe teamwork such as collaboration, knowledge sharing, and cooperation become absent from a team if the members become afraid to take interpersonal risks. According to a study on trust, it takes a reciprocal effort to build or rebuild trust. It can be challenging to rebuild trust once it has been damaged, whether as a result of bad leadership choices or overall team behavior. However, you can start your way to restore trust in your team quickly after the breach.

How Does Trust Contribute in a Team in the First Place?

For a team to be successful, the members need to be able to trust one another. This means that they must feel secure in relying on each other, treating each other fairly, and feeling comfortable sharing ideas and information. Trust also leaves room for accountability in a team.

Team members are more likely to keep their commitments and fulfill their duties when they know they can count on one another. In remote teams, where members may not frequently have the chance to interact in person, trust is particularly crucial. It can be challenging for team members to form connections and communicate successfully without trust.

Ways to Rekindle Trust in a Team After Conflict

Here are ways you can restore trust in your team and maintain it in the future:

Taking Ownership of the Failure

Owning the failure is the first step in reestablishing trust in a team. Whether it was you who failed or you permitted a teammate to fail is irrelevant in this situation. Even if you aren't a leader and the blame isn't on you, you can take a step forward and encourage your team members or the leaders to acknowledge the failure and take responsibility for it.

Owning the failure and acknowledging that it happened shows the rest of the team that you understand that the trust was broken and that you’re unwilling to move forward with a lower level of trust or unresolved conflicts on your team. This lets everyone become aware of the fact that if you’re serious about working together as a team, you can't disregard or ignore what happened.

Understanding the Consequences

After acknowledging the failure or the conflict, the second step to restoring trust in your team is understanding and illustrating its repercussions. Every action taken and every choice made has an effect, whether negative or positive. It’s impossible for a breach of trust to not have any consequences. Understanding and acknowledging these consequences is a necessary step in taking responsibility for the failure and trying to correct it.

Whether you lost a project due to one person’s neglect, or your decisions led to the failure, try to analyze the consequences of the action and observe how the rest of your team is reacting and feeling following the failure to properly make amends. And until you acknowledge the validity of those feelings, you won't be able to restore trust genuinely.

Apologizing or Encouraging It

It goes without saying that apologizing can be one of the hardest things to do in the world. Especially if the harm you’ve caused affects more than one person. Of course, it's hard, but it’s not impossible and it certainly is important if you want to build back trust in your team. You must acknowledge and apologize to your team genuinely, whether your actions or a choice you played part in led to the breach of trust. Genuinely apologizing means showing that you regret the decision and admitting that it was incorrect.

An effective apology includes a period after the word "sorry." without using any “if” in it.  Even if you had little to no part in the failure, stepping forward and sincerely apologizing can encourage others in the team to take responsibility for their part, which is a big step toward building team trust. Show that you’re remorseful over what happened and want to move forward to correct the mistake.

Presenting a Correct Course

Now that you’ve addressed the conflict and apologies have been made, presenting a course to follow is the next step in reestablishing trust in your team. While it's commendable and necessary to apologize, you must also change your trajectory and outline a correction for the failure. Determining a correction consists of two parts.

Outlining what you or the team will do to make amends for the initial action is the first step. The second is to describe how you and the team will prevent future failures of this nature. Whether it was a one-sided decision, a misunderstanding of team goals, or lacking on one person’s part, It's important to determine what went wrong, how you can correct it, and how to prevent it from happening again.

Relying on Your Team Members for Help

Even if you’re a leader of your team or someone who has taken it upon themselves to rebuild your team’s trust, you can't do it all alone. It's unlikely that the blame falls on one team member. Even if that may be true in situations where only one individual violated trust, it will still be difficult for that person (or yourself) to manage it all by themselves.

The correction you determine will probably involve several people. Therefore, you'll require assistance from the rest of your team in implementing the correction to rebuild trust. Asking for assistance and relying on your team also conveys vulnerability, which indicates that you trust your team members and that restarts the circle of trust.

Consistency Remains the Foundation of Rebuilding Trust

Even while these actions will speed up the trust cycle, it still takes time to restore it. It’s important to acknowledge the conflict or the mistake as you move forward working with your team, even in the future. Working in a team means an individual action has multiple reactions and it impacts all team members. However, stepping forward and being the bigger person to set things right also works that way. Setting a good example of acknowledging and apologizing for the mistake improves your credibility as a team member and encourages the rest of the team to follow your example.

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