build trust in cross-functional teams

How to Build Trust in Cross-Functional Teams

I recently wrote about motivating high-performing teams. Motivation goes hand-in-hand with trust. Yet, there are many reasons for the success or failure of teams and organisations. One of the most common causes is the absence or breach of trust. This can occur due to lack of clarity or misunderstandings about objectives, expectations or roles. It can also happen as a result of general confusion around responsibilities. For project teams or matrix organisations to succeed, leaders must consider the creation and management of trust within teams.

In this blog, I will explore how to build trust in cross-functional teams and explain the different ways to encourage and maintain trust. 

How Can a Leader Create Trust? 

I’ll delve into how to create trust in teams by combining Ken Blanchard’s “ABCD Model” with David Maister’s “Trust Equation”. 

Ken Blanchard – ABCD Model of Trust

According to Blanchard, the ‘language of trust’ comprises of four key components:

“Ability” refers to the specific skills and experience needed for an individual to complete their work to a satisfactory standard.

“Believability” is founded on integrity and authenticity. Can you be trusted with confidence and do you behave in a way that mirrors your values?

 “Connectedness” centres around how you choose to build a relationship with your team and individuals within it. Do you care about them as a human being and do they feel that you care?

 “Dependability” is about doing what you say you are going to do. Committing to something and having those around you believe that you will be able to deliver on it.

David Maister – Trust Equation

Maister’s “Trust Equation” highlights similar components of building trust but in a  different structure.

Here, the elements upholding “Trustworthiness” are credibility, reliability and intimacy, divided by self-orientation.

  • “Credibility” consists of sharing your knowledge, your expertise and your feelings with the team. It also asks the question of whether your feelings are aligned with what your company and team needs.
  • “Reliability” is like dependability outlined by Blanchard. It reflects upon the consistency of our actions and whether we do what we said we will. 
  • “Intimacy,” asks you to explore whether you connect with your team and whether you care about them.
  • “Self-orientation” looks at the extent to which your goals are more focused on yourself than those of the team.

As a leader, you must reflect upon the elements of these two models. While there is some overlap, Blanchard and Maister offer methods for evaluating your current actions. It guides how to build trust and what you can do to encourage trust within your teams.

Top 4 Tips on How to Build Trust

Drawing upon these models, here are my top four tips to building trust and assisting your team’s unity and efficiency:

1. The biggest influencer in trust is connectedness.

Take the time to build personal relationships between yourself and your team members. However, encourage your team members to do the same with their colleagues – not just you. Creating a work environment founded on trust will help with motivation and creativity. 

build trust in cross-functional teams

2. Help your team get to know each other.

Provide clarity on roles and expectations and help them understand the challenges that each other are facing. I helped bring together two teams whose work environments were dysfunctional. Allowing them to go through the process of understanding where the other individuals and team were, observing each other’s challenges and encouraging them to think about how they can support one another built trust between the teams.

3. Build a culture of “no blame” where making mistakes is okay.

This doesn’t mean that you ignore mistakes. It means you focus more so on learning from them. Regularly talking about things which have gone wrong with a future focus of how you can use the learning in similar situations can be crucial to helping individuals feel comfortable. This sense of comfort with expressing mistakes creates psychological safety where team members feel comfortable speaking up where things aren’t working.

4. Trust will likely break down at some point in your team and, as a leader, you must be able to tackle these situations head-on.

We are all human and no team or individual will always be able to maintain trust. Whether from stress, lack of communication, misinterpretation or confusion, even in the best of teams, trust will eventually waver. In these situations, it may be most beneficial to contact a mediator or a conflict-resolution expert. The key is to resolve issues as soon as possible so make sure you tackle any lack of trust or conflict as soon as you notice it is. You may have to work with individuals or the team as a whole and have open-minded, future focussed discussions. Most importantly, you must be observant. The longer this breach of trust continues, the more difficult it is to get it back again. 

If you’d like to find out more about how to build trust and manage conflict in teams, get in touch on 07980 838945 or email me at and I’ll be in touch with you thereafter.

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