Trust: the building block to your team

written by Erica Quam

It begins with trust.

Players and coaches must have a certain level of trust in one another to work together cohesively throughout the course of a season. Laying the groundwork at the beginning of the season is important to the health of your team - from the day to day to the long haul.

It doesn't have to take a whole lot of time. It can be simple and powerful.

Why is trust the foundational element? Look at The Five Dysfunctions of a Team from Patrick Lencioni: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

If a team doesn't trust one another, they won't ever engage in conflict. If they don't have a healthy level of conflict, then they will never commit to one another. If they never make that commitment, there is nothing to hold one another accountable to. Then the results of the team become irrelevant.

If absence of trust is the first dysfunction, how do we build trust? And what are the layers involved?

To keep it simple, let's look at 3 layers of where to establish trust in your team:

  1. Layer 1 - Trust between the players and the coaching staff
  2. Layer 2 - Trust amongst the players - returners and newcomers
  3. Layer 3 - Trust within the staff

Trust between the players and coaches:

Find ways to share your story.

Share your why as a coach. When athletes see you as a person first it breaks down the barriers of authority. Your title automatically gives you authority. Players want to know who you are and why you do what you do. They want to know that you care about them - first. Be authentic. Be transparent.

When coaches are vulnerable and share part of themselves with their athletes they begin to build a higher degree of trust. 

Trust amongst athletes:

Get players talking to one another.

Today, you probably have to do a little work to facilitate this process. Help them get to know one another - at a deeper level. Think about many times do they actually sit down and talk to one another anymore? Many conversations today happen over text, twitter, email, or through other people - instead of face to face.

This can be as easy as a 'paired-sharing' exercise:

Have them actually sit down, look each other in the eye, and talk to one another. Give them rules and make them stick to it. Partner up with someone they don't know as well. One person talks, and the other person listens - no comments or additions to the story. Let them know who will go first (ie. the person with the earliest birthday in the year or the longest hair or whatever you choose). Have them simply practice the art of listening. Here are some examples to get them talking:

  • What's the best moment of your career and why?
  • What's the most difficult moment of your career and why? 
  • What are you looking forward to this year?
  • What are you nervous about? 

The beauty is that you can't listen and think at the same time. The rules are a game-changer. Instead of trying to formulate a response or add to the story - all they have to do is listen. This is a trust-builder as well as a mindfulness exercise!

They may have different values and come from different backgrounds. Once they hear one another's stories they may begin to see more similarities than differences - or at least understand one another better. They may hear something from a teammate that totally surprises them, contradicts their first impression, or helps them understand why they behave the way that they do.

Trust within the staff:

It's easy to put all the focus and emphasis on the athletes; however, it's equally important to take time establishing trust within the staff. Otherwise the same dysfunctions will happen amongst the staff - the team within the team.

You can have a quick conversation as a group where everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Share your goals this season - both personally and professionally. Talk about what challenges can you anticipate and what kind of support would be helpful.

Try building some trust on your team at the beginning of the season - in the 'FORMING' stage of team development. It is much harder to try and build this trust later on in the year - when your team is 'STORMING'!  Remember...once you have this conversation at the front end, it will be easier to go back and re-establish some trust when things get off track. 

What are some ways that you build trust on your team? I'd love to hear your ideas! Share one in the comments below.