Karin’s Leadership Articles

How to Build Trust When Your New Team is Skeptical

You’ve got a long track record of leading well. You just wish your new team would talk to your last team about how trustworthy you are. That would save a heck of a lot of precious time. If you could build trust more quickly, you could get on to making your usual magic.

But building trust is never as simple as that. Even if you’re very good, your team may have psychological safety issues and a bit of FOSU (fear of speaking up) from the last guy.

How to Build Trust With a New Team (Video)

1.  Don’t Trash the Last Guy

The more you listen, the worse the stories will sound. It’s tempting to react and trash the guy before. It may feel cathartic, and it may even feel like you’re part of the solution. Don’t go there. Build your credibility on your own merits. No good ever comes from tearing other people down.

Besides, you never know the whole story. Tell the stories at dinner to your spouse and then let it go.

2.  Listen, and then Listen Some More

Hear the frustration and understand the root cause. Ask courageous questions.

Get to know the team as human beings. But be careful. Watch your facial expressions. See #1.  Seek to understand, but resist the urge to judge.

3.  Break it Down

The best way to get to know a new team is one person at a time. Invest deeply one-on-one. Learn about what they need, want, and yearn most to give. An look for ways to foster trust and collaboration within the team as well.

4. Share Stories

The team is yearning for signs that you are credible and competent. Share a bit about your leadership track record of results–framing it in the context of strategic stories of what your previous teams were able to achieve (not what YOU achieved).

5. Find some Early Wins and Give Them the CreditPeople Who Steal Credit at Work

Pick some important low-hanging fruit, and help the team achieve an early win. Nothing builds credibility faster than success. And even more importantly, be sure you give THEM the credit for success.

If the last guy was a jerk and stole credit, they may be skeptical to share ideas. One of the most surprising findings in our Courageous Cultures research was that the biggest reason employees withhold the ideas is that they are afraid they won’t be given the credit they deserve.

6. Let them See Who You Really Are, and What You Bring to the Table

This is the perfect time to show up with both confidence and humility.

Showing up with confidence helps build trust as you bring an inspiring vision worth rallying around and a well-articulated point of view. Share a bit of your expertise and what you bring to the table.

And of course, when building trust, a bit of vulnerability goes a long way.  Let them know who you are and what scares you. Show up human and authentic. 

7. Prove They Matter

If you want to build trust, show them you’ve got their backs. Take a bullet or two. The team needs to know you care about them and their careers at least as much as you care about your own. First impressions matter, for you and for them.

Even though it’s tempting, try not to judge their early skeptical behavior. Or worse, assume they’re disengaged or don’t care. If they sense your frustration, that will only increase their defensive stance and it will be even more difficult to build trust. Investing deeply at the beginning of the relationship with your new team will create the strong foundation you need for long-term, breakthrough results.

Your turn.

What are your favorite best practices for building trust with a new team?

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

14 Comments

  1. Steve Borek

    It’s been my experience #6 is the most powerful yet the hardest one for leaders to do. Most equate vulnerability with weakness when in fact it’s operating from strength.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, I so agree. The best leaders let people in.

      Reply
  2. Bill

    This post reminded me of an incident about five years ago. I had been approached by a recruiter (I was not even looking at the time) who wanted to speak with me about an opportunity.

    Seemed the company was looking for a manager to come in and “lay down the law.” As was explained to me, the past manager was letting employees get away with everything, so the company wanted a new manager who would be somewhat of a jerk – I think those were the actual words.

    When I said I was not interested, the recruiter actually became a jerk with me. I see the humor in the story, but I always felt a little sad for that department, and for the new manager coming on board.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Bill, That’s a wild story. Interesting that they set out with that intention. I’m curious how that story played out.

      Reply
  3. Terri Klass

    Terrific post, Karin and one that many of us can relate to!

    I think #3 is so critical and I love what you say: “Invest deeply one-on-one. Learn about what they need, want, and yearn most to give.” In working with less than perfect team situations I find that when leaders take the time to learn about their team’s lives outside of work deeper relationships can be formed. Those connections eventually lead to more trust.

    Thanks Karin!

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, I so agree. People want to be seen as people. They want to feel understood and got.

      Reply
  4. LaRae Quy

    Love your points, Karin!

    I have always found this one to be particularly helpful: “The more you listen, the worse the stories will sound.”

    It’s a delicate balance in keeping the tension between listening to folks and hearing “confessions.”

    Keeping the door open, being available, showing empathy, and letting them know they matter—great advice!

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, Yeah, I learned that one the hard way. Now it takes a lot to shock me 😉

      Reply
  5. Bruce Harpham

    Karin, this is a good point: The best way to get to know a new team is one person at a time. Invest deeply one-on-one.

    It is easy to think of departments as a single unit when, in reality, decisions are made one person at a time. I have even seen executives make efforts to implement to ´get to know you´ advice when they are managing large organizations with several hundred people.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Bruce, You raise a great point. I found it very important in the large teams I led. You can’t get to know everyone, but it’s truly worth investing in getting to know some people well at all levels of the organization.

      Reply
  6. Randy Conley

    Great article Karin! The number 1 priority for any new leader (whether a first time manager or an experienced leader with a new team) is to build trust with his/her followers. Once trust is established, then the leader can move forward with implementing new ideas and strategies.

    Regarding #4 – Share Stories…I would caution leaders to be careful about how they speak about past experiences. It’s absolutely imperative to demonstrate your capability (a key component of trust), but if you talk too much about “this is how we did it at my old company,” people will quickly start tuning you out.

    Thanks for being a trust advocate!

    Randy

    Reply
    • karin hurt

      Randy, You raise an important point here. Fully agree. The best stories are ones that show a bit of your vulnerability and how you learned.

      Reply
  7. Alli Polin

    The last time I started with a new team, the entire leadership team was new and we all agreed to spend our first month having 1x1s, getting the lay of the land and building relationships with the people on our team. Unfortunately, the people who hired us thought a month was far too long to get to know the 100+ people and wanted the quick wins to start rolling. I think it’s key to implement your advice across the board here and not only in one area.

    Also – agree with Randy. Have seen leaders join the organization and it’s almost as if they don’t realize that they left the old… did not make a strong first impression.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Good story. Yeah,it can’t always be sequential. The getting to know you stuff has to go side-by-side with real work.

      Reply

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