Team Trust: The One Element That Can Drive Morale and Retention

By Steve Saah on April 19, 2022 at 9:30am

By Steve Saah, Executive Director of Finance and Accounting Permanent Placement

Ask most hiring experts what it takes to attract and retain in-demand talent today, and they’ll likely cite some combination of the following:

  • Bigger raises
  • More frequent bonuses
  • Better benefits and perks
  • Greater flexibility
  • Solid leadership

Many firms compete well on the first four points, but the last one is a real differentiator. After all, leaders set the tone for the overall culture and have an enormous impact on the career trajectory of their employees.

They also inspire workers to stay or leave: In a Robert Half survey, 49% of professionals said they left a job because of a bad manager. This figure is even higher in certain metro areas and among younger workers.

As a recruiter for more than 20 years, one question I always ask job seekers is, “Why are you looking to make a change?” As you can imagine, I’ve heard quite a few bad manager stories in response.

We can’t hire and retain top-performing teams without giving careful attention to leadership. But what defines a great leader? Knowledge, vision, confidence, empathy and the ability to inspire a team are attributes frequently mentioned.

There’s one issue, however, that’s absolutely essential but often left out of the discussion: trust.

Team trust now takes center stage

In 2020, organizations were upended when offices closed, and employees were sent home to work remotely. Some managers struggled to guide their remote team effectively as they were accustomed to seeing staff members at their desks each day and gauging productivity by the number of hours they spent at work.

We saw two groups of leaders emerge in the pandemic: The first group trusted their team members to get their work done in the manner that best suited them. The second group dug into a deep micromanagement style, alienating staff, creating more stress and leading some to exit the firm.

Trusting leaders enable people to:

  • Think for themselves
  • Grow
  • Work using the methods that are best for them to deliver results (even if these are different from the manager’s methods)
  • Hold themselves accountable to meet goals and deadlines
  • Take reasonable risks, make mistakes and learn from them
  • Come up with new ways to solve problems and contribute to the organization

Staff who work in an environment of trust know they’ll be evaluated fairly and have honest communication with their manager. They also sense consistency: The same rules and expectations apply to each person on the team. No matter what, the leader “has their back” and will stand up for the team when questioned.

Evaluating your current level of team trust

Leaders who want to retain their team members need to ask themselves two key questions:

  • Do the people on my team trust me?
  • Do I trust them?

If the answers are “no,” or “not sure,” then you know you need to focus on building or regaining a sense of trust. If the answers are “yes,” I’d still encourage you to dive deeper to confirm these assumptions are true.

As you look closely at enhancing your management style to fortify team trust, consider these questions as well:

Do employees know I trust them and that they have my full support?

This can be a simple fix. Many times, managers “think” employees already know they trust them. But when’s the last time they verbalized it?

Express your trust in your employees in both team and one-on-one meetings, especially when a new project is about to begin or when you sense a dip in morale. And more importantly, back up your words by showing your trust in your daily actions (for example, not checking in relentlessly, enabling employees to reach a goal in the way they see fit, holding everyone to the same expectations).

Also, think about whether you have the following types of employees on your current team and what you can do to work with them more effectively to build and fortify trust:

  • An experienced employee who falls short of goals or makes frequent mistakes. It’s critical to find the root cause of these issues. Has the employee’s work quality suddenly changed because of an unexpected issue at home that may be distracting them from their job? Or is this an ongoing performance issue that hasn’t been addressed adequately? Either way, have a candid conversation with the employee to determine the best way forward together.
  • A tenured team member who is a strong performer but pigeonholed in their role. Are you bringing this team member into high-profile meetings and asking for their input or giving them stretch assignments, so they can grow professionally and transcend the boundaries of their current job responsibilities? If not, you may be doing this worker and your firm a huge disservice, as retention and succession planning can suffer — not to mention the employee’s confidence.
  • New hires. Understandably, you may be reluctant to give new employees latitude early on but avoid micromanaging them. If new employees find themselves in a stifling and rigid culture, they will not likely stay with the organization for long. Strike a balance by having a thorough and empowering onboarding process, involving several employees as guides to the new hire, and making yourself available for questions and support as needed.

Am I fostering a culture of trust with everyone who interacts with our team?

As I noted above, actions are critical to proving you trust your team. When those in other departments and even people outside of your firm can see that you have created a strong organizational culture rooted in trust, you become a leader others want to emulate. People will want to work with your team more frequently, and you’ll likely find it easier to hire and retain great people who join you because of the environment you’ve established.

Team trust isn’t something that can be developed overnight; both leaders and staff need time to foster it. Maintaining trust takes work, too. By giving this careful and consistent attention, you’ll build a high-performing team that can manage change and multiple challenges. You’ll also give people the room to grow and develop meaningful career paths without leaving the organization.

Follow Steve Saah on LinkedIn.

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