6 Essential Ways to Build Trust in Your Team


Have you said some version of these words recently?

“I can’t trust him.”

“My trust has been broken.”

“We can’t put trust in them anymore.”

These refrains are common and heartbreaking. In both its presence and absence, trust is a critical and yet also often elusive quality of effective working relationships.

Being able to trust someone comes from the quality and depth of the working relationship. But being trustworthy – worthy of another’s trust – is not a rigid or permanent state or a fixed personality characteristic.

Trust comes from the consistent demonstration of certain behaviors: sincerity, competence and reliability.

  • Sincerity means delivering consistently with your intentions: people believe you mean what you say. This means acting and being in integrity with professional ethics as well as personal or organizational values.
  • Competency means having technical skills to do what you promise. You can deliver on your promises because you have the technical capacity to do so.
  • Reliability means fulfilling promises consistently, over time. You can be sincere and competent, but given a history of inconsistency, your reliability may be questioned.  

Unintentionally, assumptions of insincerity, incompetence and unreliability can easily infiltrate working relationships. When these assumptions are dominant, distrust becomes the foundation upon which working relationships get built – not a particularly steady place to grow from.

So how can you develop and nurture trust in your working relationships?  

  1. Take a look in the mirror and start with yourself. Trust is first an inside job, and it begins with you. How do you show sincerity, competence and reliability in your work and working relationships? How can you strengthen each of these first in yourself? When or where are you insincere, incompetent or unreliable? How can you better align your actions and words, build your skills or capacity, and keep your commitments?
  2. Design agreements that build trust. Embrace practices that will strengthen your sincerity, competence and reliability, and support those behaviors in your team.
  3. Reward the behavior you want. Recognize when promises are fulfilled in order to create a team culture that names and acknowledges sincerity, competency and reliability.
  4. Be specific in your requests of others, as well as your own commitments. What will be done, by when, and how will you measure success?
  5. If you find that you don’t have as much trust in someone else’s sincerity, competence or reliability, see if you can turn your complaint into a request. Behind every frustration or complaint is an unfulfilled request. Instead of complaining about it you can be more productive in your feedback by making a request.
  6. Be brave and ask for help. Opening a conversation on trust within your team or organization takes a willingness to engage in a different kind and level of dialogue with others. It’s not an easy task, so find resources that support you, and be willing to learn from each other and from your mistakes.

In the Comments below, I’d love to hear your take on developing trust. What works to build trust in your team?

Hanna Cooper is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Jocelyn Maddox

Great post! Professional relationships are just as important as personal relationships. A breakdown in trust often impedes staff commitment and leads to a decrease in production.

Hanna Cooper

Absolutely, Jocelyn – having good working relationships is actually about getting the work done! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here too!


Great post Hanna. This may seem weird but I develope trust in my teams by letting them experiment and FAIL! I fly top cover for them and they not only learn but are more likely to come to me with ideas on how we can improve the process together. The team member trusts that I value their opinions and I know that i can trust them to do their job to the best of their ability.

Hanna Cooper

That’s great, Jim – I’m a big believer in experimentation and failure as well! Your team is certainly lucky to have you as their leader and champion! Keep up the great work, and thanks for commenting.

Kim Stalcup

This post puts leadership to the test, right? Do we foster an environment of success, or do we reward the “squeaky wheel”? When the environment is not one that rewards reliability, competency and trust, staff members lose respect for leadership and is a set up for an unsuccessful team. In a leadership position, I sincerely enjoy rewarding the team and recognize the team member who sets and meets their goals. Not only does this show other team members that they are celebrated, but that going above the expectation is not unnoticed. When staff want to come to work each day, I feel that those individuals are more focused, competent and perform their duties with confidence. Those attributes are enhanced not only by the staff member, but by leadership as well.
Kim Stalcup


Too often the “squeaky wheel” gets rewarded, the Team and/or whole organization sees this and a sense of distrust permeates discussions and activities. People see the leadership as not holding their employees accountable and the “squeaky wheel” continues to get away with bad behavior. So, as in the “spirit of Covey”, if leadership does not have the courage to set the “squeaky wheel” right, the whole organization suffers.