Trust Issues

Wangui sat at her desk, shoulders slumped. This was the third time her boss had spoken to her about that report today. It was due in three days but she noticed her manager’s nagging getting worse. What was his problem? Couldn’t he give her a break so she could actually get it done?

Is Wangui’s situation unusual? Not in my experience. I’ve seen many “hovering” managers who wait anxiously for their team to deliver something, unable to let up until it’s done.

They don’t want to be this way. It’s simply because they lack trust in their direct reports to deliver. Lack of trust ruins productivity and leads to micromanagement. So what does a lack of trust actually do to a team?

1. Lack of trust stifles productivity. Managers spend too much of their time monitoring the work of their team. Instead of letting people get on with work, they ask questions and interrupt the process. This ruins the team member’s workflow and stifles independence. As this begins to spiral, some managers may even say “I’ll just do it myself” and refuse to delegate the task

2. Lack of trust reduces accountability. This is ironic but true. The more the manager controls accountability, the less accountability staff will offer. Responsibility becomes ‘not my problem’. Staff stop preparing properly for status meetings and often leave the workplace without completing routine tasks.

3. Lack of trust becomes a self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Staff feel undervalued and lose belief in their own ability. They begin to ask for guidance on even minor tasks. Thus begin the cycle of ‘upward delegation’ that hinders the progress of so many businesses.

So how to rebuild trust in a team?

This will take time and demand demonstration of some new behaviours by the manager. These will include the setting of clear expectations. Only when expectations are clear does the manager have the right to question her team on their performance.

Giving people space to work without constant interference helps to rebuild trust. But this is worrying for managers who operate through control because sometimes you need to let staff (partially) fail. Setting short-term review milestones will permit course correction before failure becomes catastrophic.

When you question the ability of your team to deliver, there is usually a reason. It may be that you believe your team doesn’t have the skills to do the work. Perhaps members aren’t motivated. Maybe they dislike their job. Fortunately, many of these trust issues can be solved. Resolving a lack of trust in a team starts and ends with the manager. Learning the basics of leadership will help.