building team trust
Obligatory HR Trust Fall shot (not my idea of building team trust)

Building team trust

is difficult. Sometimes individuals on our teams don’t seem to want to build a relationship with us as managers. Some folks may have had a bad experience with management in the past and others may look at the job as just a “Jay.Oh.Be”. They don’t come to work with the mindset to build relationships. Some employees are just there for the paycheck and these folks are usually the least engaged.

Last week, I blogged about how to influence your manager and get your VP to notice you. I also promised that I would explain how to run the same game on individual contributors if you are a manager or the VP.

Building team trust is easier said than done, especially when you inherit a team vs. building a team via direct hires. This week I share a tactic I have used effectively with leadership teams in the past to build trust throughout the org.

Just to provide perspective, last weeks blog was a suggestion to help individual contributors manage their manage. My suggestion was for individual contributors to take the opportunity and send a complimentary email about your direct manager, to your managers – manager. This email would be complimentary of your first line manager and does two things:

  • Gives your VP visibility into who YOU are as an individual contributor
  • Gives your manager the opportunity to look at you in a different light. You are not just someone who needs to be managed, you are now an ally. Management is a lonely game and most managers do not believe they have ally’s reporting to them.

Building team trust

As managers, we are constantly on the mission of building team trust. Without it, our days can be not just lonely but down right difficult. Most employees don’t trust management and I understand why. The very word “management” gives some folks the impression that the manager is there to manage. Managers are responsible for budgets, raises, disciplinary action etc. When the corporate system puts limits on budgets and raises, it becomes very difficult to be the company representative and build trust. Trust would be much easier to give if there were adequate budgets and the word was “career accelerator” vs. “manager”. Most employees do not believe that managers are there for the employee. One way to break this stereotype is to do something for the employee that gives the IC that you are there for them as individuals.

As managers, we take it for granted that individual contributors understand that there is a budget, limited resources and guidelines for the collective to follow. What is common sense to one person is ludicrous to another. As managers, part of our job is to bridge this gap and explain the company philosophy around the nebulous topics.

Budgets and merit increase philosophy can be a hard thing to understand. Before we explain what many employees may not understand it can be helpful to build trust with the employee so they really do believe you as their manager are on their side. It is easy to buy lunch or coffee for your team, but many cynical employees will think that their manager makes so much more money than they bring home that it is the very least they can do. So we need to do the something that they can appreciate and that money cannot buy. We need to give them the confidence that we are there for them as an individual. One way to do that is to give your team the confidence that in addition to playing sheriff, we are there to accelerate careers.

Building Team Trust

As a manager, next time Johnny Employee does something good, try the following.

Meet with your VP. Explain to Suzy VP that you noticed Johnny Employee went the extra mile. You want to send a note to Suzy VP outlining the deed and explaining how that deed helped the department, business, team, etc. In this email, you explain that you would like to make sure that this deed goes on record and you thought it was such a great move that Suzy VP should know about it. (We are not sending this email to Johnny Employee.)

And then the coup de’ grace.

You explain to Suzy VP that you would like her to forward the email to Johnny Employee with the following short note:

Johnny Employee:

Thank you so much for doing X to help the (department, business, team etc). Your efforts embody the culture and philosophy of Acme Publishing and your efforts are not going un noticed. (You add your own words here.)

Thank you!


Simple and short. The entire effort between the manager and Suzy VP took all of 5 minutes and I promise you your VP will now look at your management skills in a different light. Your management IQ just went up a couple of points.

What this does for the employee is that it gives them the confidence that you, the manager is looking out for their career. In a larger organization, this move gives the employee confidence that the VP does know who they are and isn’t this what all employees REALLY want from their manager and VP or department head?

We leave the impression that there are some “behind the scenes, executive bathroom” conversations going on. These are good conversations and they are about Johnny Employee. Who doesn’t want this to happen to them?

What employees don’t trust

The typical 3% raise on a $40,000.00 a year salary came out to about $1200.00 a year or $50.00 per paycheck and about $35.00 in pocket after taxes. An employee cannot go home and take their significant other to dinner to celebrate with $35.00. Tell an employee that raise is going to be effective in 30 or 45 days in the future and you just kicked them in the ding-ding and made the stars come out.

I know when I received my first few 3% raises in my corporate career, I didn’t tell anyone about them. I didn’t tell my wife, and I didn’t tell my parents. I wasn’t embarrassed but I didn’t think it was an amount of any consequence. I didn’t want Mrs. HRNasty hitting me up to go shopping thinking we had extra money to burn. She would have heard $1200.00, when in reality it is $35.00.

There are a number of things about this tactic that I really like:

  • The deed or accomplishment doesn’t have to be anything of consequence. It can be a showing of teamwork, it can be someone volunteering for a tough shift, or as simple as an employee making a new hire feel welcome. Obviously if the accomplishment is a little bigger, we can incorporate more depth in the note to Suzy VP. I would suggest you compliment behavior you want repeated.
  • This doesn’t cost you anything but a little bit of time. Zero budget, no extra dollars and did I say “very little time?”
  • No one has to know about how you are looking out for your employee. If word does gets out that you have a reputation for getting your team visibility, that isn’t a bad thing. If you want to take it one step further and milk your gesture, you can thank the employee publicly at the next department meeting. (We don’t have to share the fact that this went to the VP because that could look like playing favorites to the cynical)

Where most employees won’t tell their significant other about a smallish raise, they will share a glowing email from their manager to the VP. They are proud, their significant-other is proud and if the email is written correctly, the employee knows EXACTLY what behavior to repeat and build upon in the future. I call this the coaching part of being a manage – er.

It is very easy to point out to employees when they are doing wrong and “manage” liability. If you want to start building team trust and reward the behavior you are looking for, give them visibility to your SuzyVP.