7 Ways 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. That would save a heck of a lot of precious time. If they would just trust you, you could get on to making your usual magic. But it’s never as simple as that. If you’re good, at this stage of the game you may feel you deserve a better reception from your new team. You may, but they’re still skeptical. The last guy was a jerk and the scars are still oozing.

7 Ways to Build Trust with a Skeptical Team

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 (if they’re not too dirty) to your kids. Then let it go.

2.  Listen, and then Listen Some More

Hear the frustration and understand the root cause. 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. Here’s a tool that can help.

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 stories of what your previous teams were able to achieve (not what YOU achieved).

5. Find some Early Wins

Pick some important low-hanging fruit, and help the team achieve an early win. Nothing builds credibility faster than success.

6. Let them in

Tell the truth. Be a bit vulnerable. Let them know who you are and what scares you. Show up human.  This post can help.

7. Prove They Matter

Show them you’ve got their backs. Take a bullet or two. Give them the credit. 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. Don’t judge their early skeptical behavior, or assume they’re disengaged or don’t care. If they sense your frustration, that will only increase their defensive stance. Investing deeply at the beginning will create the strong foundation you need for long-term, breakthrough results.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , .

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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

  3. 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!

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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!


  7. 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.

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