The Insider's Guide to Building Trust on Your Team

written by Erica Quam

Teambuilding begins with trust.

Successful relationships include a certain level of trust. All teams need trust 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.

This doesn't have to take a whole lot of time. Keep it simple to make it powerful.

Why is trust the foundational element? Patrick Lencioni wrote a book about five dysfunctions of a team: 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'll never get real with each other. If they don't have a healthy level of conflict, then they will never commit to one another. If they never make that commitment, then accountability becomes less important and the results a team works towards become irrelevant.

How do you build trust on your team? What are the layers involved?

  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


Find ways to share your story.

Your title as a coach automatically puts you in a position of power and gives you authority. To begin to connect with your athletes, share 'your why' as a coach. Players want to know who you are and why you do what you do. When athletes see you as a person first it breaks down the barriers of authority. 

When coaches are vulnerable and share part of themselves with their athletes they begin to build a higher degree of trust. Be authentic, be transparent and build trust with your athletes.


Get players talking to one another. Help your athletes get to know one another - at a deeper level. Get them out of their routine and their comfort zones.

How many times do your athletes actually sit down and talk to one another anymore? Especially talking AND making eye contact? Most of the time they're staring down at their phones! Conversations happen over text, twitter, email, or through other people - instead of face to face.

My go to exercise for trust building was an activity called, 'paired-sharing':

Have them sit down, look each other in the eye, and talk to one another.

Have them partner up with someone they don't know as well. One person will talk. The other person simply will listen (without commenting or adding to the story). Instead of trying to formulate a response or add to the story - all they have to do is listen. You can't listen and think at the same time. (This can be a trust-builder as well as a mindfulness exercise!)

You can have them talk about almost anything! Get creative! 

Here are some examples to get you thinking...then come up with your own for your specific group:

  • 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 and why? 

Your athletes 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 surprises them, contradicts their first impression, or helps them understand more about the way they behave.


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.

Take time to have a conversation where everyone has a voice and an opportunity to contribute.

If you've done the DiSC with your staff, pull it out and revisit it. Share how you like to be communicated with when an issue comes up or how you like to receive feedback. Share everyone's goals for the season - both personally and professionally. Talk about what challenges you anticipate and what kind of support would be helpful. 

Be more intentional when you build trust on your team this season...and let me know how it goes!

What do you already do to build trust on your team? I'd love to hear! Share one thing you do in the comments below.