Council Post: The Smartest Thing A Leader Can Do? Trust Your Team

By Sean Harper, CEO and co-founder at Kin Insurance.

At my company, we have a bias toward action. We make it clear to employees at every level that the person closest to any problem should solve it. Moreover, we make sure they shouldn’t have to go through layers of management to do it. This idea is central to our company culture, and I argue it’s a major component of our success. 

Employees who are allowed to make decisions and contribute ideas express greater job satisfaction, which usually translates into higher employee retention and better organizational performance. But it’s also a huge boon to management who can stop micromanaging their team and start focusing on the big picture. 

That said, it’s not easy to step back and let your people perform when you have so much riding on their work. We’ve found that putting systems in place to clarify goals and foster communication helps build the trust needed to encourage autonomy in our company. The following ideas are a few ways you can get started.

1. Develop A Playbook

The best leaders are also great coaches, and every great coach has a playbook that outlines what their team should do in different scenarios. It’s something anyone on the team can fall back on when questions arise. Our playbook is actually a Wiki that houses training guides, how-to documents and several other useful pieces of information that help employees find answers. 

Your business’ playbook might include:

• Your expectations for daily processes

• The purpose and functions for each department

• Your company’s organization chart and directory

• Answers to frequently asked questions from both employees and customers

What you include in your playbook all depends on what information your employees need to do their jobs well. 

Remember, too, that playbooks are just guidelines. Nothing in it is set in stone, but the information gives employees some direction when they have a problem. People will also want to add to it as different concerns pop up, so you want to be sure to have a system for updating and archiving information. Otherwise, it can get unwieldy. 

The Takeaway: The playbook is a crucial resource for team members to refer to that helps them build the confidence that they are doing things the right way. As they become more adept at solving problems, their managers will gain trust in their employees’ abilities. It’s a win-win all around. 

2. Ask For Ideas And Feedback

Employees are your best resource for identifying bottlenecks and improving the procedures they deal with every day. We do this at my company through an internal platform where employees can make recommendations for changing operational procedures. The people involved can also comment and vote for the recommendations they think will have a positive impact on workflows. This feedback has given us excellent insight into what works and helped us make processes more efficient. 

The Takeaway: When employees are encouraged to give feedback, they feel less like cogs in a machine and more like valuable problem-solvers. They’re also much more likely to buy into any changes you make, which boosts productivity.   

3. Invest In A Project Management Tool

Remember how much people hated group projects in school? Either someone was sure they were doing all of the work, or the entire thing would go off the rails because no one knew what anyone else was doing. The same can happen in a business, which is why project management tools like Trello or Asana are vital for building trust. Everyone involved can watch as a project moves through the pipeline, plus most platforms allow teammates to communicate directly with each other.

The Takeaway: The right project management tool gives employees and managers a bird’s eye view so everyone can see each step as it’s accomplished.  

4. Establish Internal Connections

If I want my employees to solve problems, I have to make sure they know who can help them. That means I have to make sure they know who does what across every department — or at least know how to find that out. In many cases, a company directory is sufficient. But every business has key contact people for certain situations, and that requires a bit more effort. A face-to-face introduction during onboarding is a great way to start.

The Takeaway: When your employees know where to go for answers, they feel empowered to solve problems on their own. As an added bonus, relationships with coworkers help employees feel more invested in their jobs. 

Building Trust In Your Team

Trust is the driving force behind autonomous employees, but it doesn’t happen overnight. When you have systems in place that keep everyone on the same page, managers and employees can start gaining confidence in one another.

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