Melbourne Business School News How to build trust in your team as a new manager during COVID-19

How to build trust in your team as a new manager during COVID-19

Team Management is always a challenge, but especially during COVID-19. Associate Professor Carol Gill explains how to build trust in the workplace.

Melbourne Business School Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour Carol Gill

Carol Gill is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour who teaches People Management and Leadership on our MBA programs.

COVID-19 has hit everyone hard very quickly and changed work as we know it. The work from home arrangements might have improved flexibility for individual employees, but for those who lead teams, it’s likely to have opened a sea of challenges. If it's you're first-time in team management, there are three factors that make it particularly hard.

First, you may have been promoted for your individual contributions and may feel a lot of pressure to prove yourself to those who have given you an opportunity to manage for the first time.

Second, you may still be figuring out the right way to manage different people's needs on your team during this crisis – a direct report who is feeling stressed out, someone who has difficulty balancing work and life, or others who are just scared of the threat of illness and financial insecurity.

Third, it's likely that there's more scrutiny on your performance now to deliver results and help your colleagues and customers adjust to the new work arrangements.

Given these challenges, it's crucial you trust your team. Lack of trust may lead you to micromanage or make frequent demands, which is the least effective way of influencing an outcome and can often result in passive resistance.

There are three elements to trust: You need to believe that another party has your best interests at heart (benevolence), believe they are capable (competence), and believe they will follow through (integrity).

How to build trust in the workplace 

1. Know how to address the needs of each team member

Your direct reports may be at different points in their career growth. Some team members will need more direction than others on a particular task. Others may adapt easily to the changing work culture while others may take time to settle in. It is your job to monitor these changes and adopt a style to suit different individuals and the team as a whole. As a team manager, it's important to understand what your team needs. Else, it can hurt your trust in them and vice-versa.

2. Don't take away their control

When a team member is showing they can follow through and use their judgement to alert and renegotiate with you when things change, let go of the reins and focus your energy where it is most needed. If you take all the discretion away from a fully competent team member, they will feel frustrated and underutilised.

For example, set up one-on-one individual calls, preferably on video, to decide how often you should meet and what decisions team members can make alone at the start of each project. Set up key performance indicators (KPIs) by asking, "How would we know that this project was a success?" Celebrate successful milestones with innovative recognition and rewards. You can ask team members to come up with awards that can be shared at a social Zoom meeting.

3. Agree outcomes with team members

This should be a two-way discussion to agree on what should be done, and how and when it should be done. Include milestone check-ins so you can see if an individual team member is on track. Also, encourage team members to check in with you if they think the parameters are changing and provide a mechanism for doing so.

Meet regularly over video conferencing at the start of a project. You can also have recurring check-ins with the whole team. Team members can report on progress, plans, and challenges in this forum and share what they need to be successful.

Have frank, honest communication with your team. Encourage vulnerability by sharing your own challenges as well.

4. Use inspirational appeals

An effective influence tactic is 'inspirational appeals' or showing your team members why something is important. Talk to team members about the importance of their work. Specifically, tell them how their work fits into a bigger picture and how others will benefit from their timely efforts.

5. Be transparent

Trust is a two-way street. Show your team members that you are trustworthy through your benevolence, competence, and integrity as a manager. Trust in a manager has been associated with employee engagement and performance. For example, if you said you would get senior management support for a team initiative but fail to deliver, tell your team why. Similarly, if you ask your team for suggestions and don't implement them, thank them and say why the idea can't be implemented at this time.

6. Be fair

Where possible treat everyone the same way – and when this isn't possible, explain why this is the case without breaking confidences. For instance, someone may have to home-school their children or take care of a sick family member and you can make arrangements for them to catch up in the evenings. You may share with the team that whilst some flexibility is required during these extreme times you will ensure that work and rewards will be equitable.

Have an open and honest discussion with your team on what they think about the system in place. Your team may also agree to have a 'no backstabbing' norm that encourages conflict to be communicated directly to those involved.

7. Recognise and celebrate team member progress

Look for what your team members are doing well and give frequent, targeted, and specific feedback. For example, if a team member closes a major project send them a personal email and 'shout out' their success at your next team meeting. As a manager, what you say matters.

8. Bring your team together for a social on Zoom at the end of each week

Spending time together builds team trust and aligns team members. Themed Friday afternoon hangouts on Zoom or a BYO morning tea in a favourite mug can build relationships. Themes could include wearing a colour or a favourite hat. To build social bonds, team members could also share something meaningful in their workspace.


This article was first published on Harvard Business Review Ascend.

To find out more about studying at Melbourne Business School, visit our Degree Programs and Short Courses pages, or learn about our range of custom services For Organisations.

Subscribe to our podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes by searching for "Melbourne Business School".