Does your team have a strong degree of trust? That is, can people say what they really think and do their best work, even if it means taking some risks and trying uncertain things? If so, congratulations! That is probably the result of some serious time in the trenches together, either over the course of time or through intense crises where everyone had to pull together and came out okay. If your team is not there yet, don't worry. Building trust is an ongoing process, and to some extent it just has to happen organically. However, there are some things you can do to help the process along, and there are no trust falls or ropes courses involved.
Clarify goals and roles.
One of the reasons people hold back what they're thinking or don't do their best work is that they're not sure what the team is actually supposed to be doing, and what they as a member of the team are and are not supposed to be doing. If your employees know what the goals are, they know what's important to bring up and what's not. If they know what's expected of them and each other in contributing to those goals, they can be communicate more effectively about the work. They'll also have a greater sense of interdependence if they understand how their work affects and is affected by the work of the other members of the team. Don't assume that goals and roles are obvious, either. Make sure you actually put the ideas in writing, and ideally incorporate them into regular communications such as meeting agendas.
Get to know your employees.
There tends to be greater trust on teams that have worked together for a while because members of the team have had a chance to get to know each other and find commonalities. You can accelerate this process, at least for yourself, by intentionally trying to find out at least two things about each and every one of your direct reports:
- A strength that the employee has that directly supports important team goals
- Something that you have in common with that employee
Knowing these two things won't immediately cause you and your employees to be BFFs (which isn't a good thing anyway), but it will help you to focus on the value the employee provides and will also help you to like them a bit more because you know at least one way in which you and the employee are similar. If you can't identify these two items for each of your employees, take them for a quick, informal coffee chat. Ask them about their work and what excites them, and ask what they enjoy doing in their non-work hours as well. The idea isn't to interrogate them but to get to know each person on an individual level. This helps you to trust them and helps them to feel like they're more than just a cog in the machine. It also makes work more pleasant. Ideally, you will be able to help other members of the team also find things they have in common with each other, but start with yourself and see where things go.
Share information about yourself.
It is neither necessary or appropriate to tell your employees everything about you, especially your personal life, but it helps for them to know you as more than just your job description. Do you have a weakness for caramel lattes? Were you the gymnastics champion of your high school? Is your dog Baxter ridiculously adorable (and spoiled rotten)? Little personal-but-not-too-personal details like this create camaraderie and connection on a team, so there is no reason not to share. What's something not many people know about you that you could let your team in on?
These three things are not the end-all, be-all for establishing trust, but they give you a start and are probably things you're already doing anyway. Now you know that you're establishing trust as well!