Trust only develops on the foundation of mutual respect for shared values and a perception of competence. If you don't believe that your team members share your values, trust will never develop. And if you don't perceive the others as competent in what they do on the team (or they don't perceive you as competent about what you should bring to the team), trust will never develop. Honestly, you might as well give up now.

However, when this foundation exists, trust will still not evolve immediately. It will take time. In an interview for my Doctoral dissertation, I spoke with someone who was part of a team at a Fortune 100 company. He didn't trust them, and they didn't trust him. Yet, three years later, he left to start company and he took the same team with him. He never felt the team members were incompetent and he shared their values. It just took three years for the respect to grow to a level of trust that was required to build a culture for a very innovative startup.

But it doesn't have to take three years to build trust. There are three factor that you can play up if you want to accelerate the process of trust building.

1. Amount of time spent together

How much time do you spend with your team? Communicating over email once a week will lead to very slow trust building. However, being co-located in the same space, and spending time together outside of work will do wonders to accelerate trust-building.

While their are arguments for and against remote working, being co-located does allow you to spend more time together, while working in a remote office, in a different location, or in a different timezone will naturally slow trust building. To build trust faster, you need to spend more time with your team members--in and out of the office.

2. Intensity of interaction

You may have heard of the 7-38-55 rule (if not, Google it). This is one of the most misquoted and misused rules I know. The real intention of the rule, created by Albert Mehrabian in his 1971 book Silent Messages, is to point out that there are three elements that make up our liking of a person: 7% of your liking is based on the words used by the other person ("verbal liking"), 38% by the tone of voice ("vocal liking"), and 55% by body language ("facial liking").

If interaction between team members is limited to email, you're only tapping into 7% of the elements required to build trust. As the intensity of the interaction with other team members grows to include phone calls and conference calls, so does the efficiency of turning that time into trust. Keep in mind, though, that in a conference call attended by 20 participants, in which one person monopolizes the time talking, trust will not accelerate between the other team members on that call. Video conference may allow some body language to come across, but not as much as a real face-to-face meeting.

There are two other, higher levels of interaction you can employ. One is team building activities, especially those that aim to build trust. If you use those from time to time, you'll be surprised how trust builds faster. Finally, sharing life-altering events can go a long way to accelerate further (examples may include serving in the military together, surviving a major weather event, or even spending a weekend engaged in a significant physical and emotional activity such as moving the office)

3. Positivity of interaction

Not all interactions are positive. Some might leave a very negative residue that may fester over a long period of time. Those require significant effort to wipe out. There are many levels between an extremely positive interaction and an extremely negative interaction.

A positive interaction, obviously, works toward building trust (or accelerating it), while a negative interaction works towards reducing the level of trust, or slowing it down. Barbara Fredrickson's Broaden and Build Theory, suggests that a negative interaction would do three times the harm than the good a positive interaction would bring. So, consider that in order to accelerate trust you need to have more than three times the  positive interactions than you do negative ones.

This article is an adapted excerpt from my new book Culture starts with YOU, not your boss!

Published on: Sep 22, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.