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17 January 2019
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Build trust from the start

15 July 2013

Writing last week about some of the old projects my teams and I saw through got me thinking about an aspect of leadership that is pretty fundamental. 

I’ve written about trust before, but this week I want to look at building that with a new team.

Many of the teams that I led and built between the mid-1980s and, over 20 years later, took over had the potential for problems. But you have to avoid an “us and them” situation and ensure that you can effectively blend the old and new regimes.

The basic principle here is that you have to start by trusting the people you are inheriting because, if you don’t do that from day one, why should they trust you? It can be hard because in many of these cases you haven taken over to make things better and that, from the other side of the coin, can make it look like the folks joining you are in some way inferior. You must not let that happen as it will poison the relationship. Bringing them on board and respecting their knowledge and abilities is the first step.

One of the things that I would do was bring key members of the new team over to show them the operations that they had joined, partly to show them our way of working, but always to ask their opinion on what we did: was there anything they thought we could do better, for example. Showing respect for their professionalism was a cornerstone for building the working relationship.

Yes, there will be times when there are members of an inherited team who prove to be unable to meet the standards that you set and you have to let them go, but the others in the team will have been aware of the weakness and will have been watching to see what you did about it. Taking the right action in the right way will enhance the trust and respect that they have for you.

I’ve seen this done very badly more than once when my team or I has been taken over. The new group brings in its own people, duplicating skills that are already available and freezing out the incumbents. They will closet themselves in the conference room for private talks seemingly oblivious to the fact that their new people are aware of the gathering and are wondering what is going on. This sort of behaviour generates paranoia and engenders a complete lack of trust between the two groups.

Taking over a new team on a promotion or in a new job presents the same sort of challenges: you are coming in to prove your worth, will have your own ideas and goals to achieve, but you should always start by trusting people. You may be let down by someone, but if you are then deal with that in an appropriate way. People will respect you for that and respect is an important factor in trust (and vice versa).

John Bowen is an FM consultant