How to Build Trust Through Words and Actions

One of the most fun stories in the NFL this year is Brock Purdy, the San Francisco 49ers third-string quarterback who was vaulted into the starting role and led the team to the NFC Championship game. Back in August, I bet very few people could tell you who wore the #13 jersey on the 49ers. Even casual football fans now know his name and accomplishments. How does “Mr. Irrelevant”, which is the nickname given to the last pick of the annual National Football League Draft, a 23-year-old rookie who hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, get to be the trusted leader for his team in a short period of time?

First and foremost, Purdy established trust with his team by building relationships, showing up consistently at practice and in the games, as well as by making good decisions on the field. Research supports that these are three key areas that build the foundation of trust – 1. positive relationships, 2. good judgment/expertise, and 3. consistency.

His teammates picked up on his leadership very early on as a starter.

“Everybody’s looking around, like, ‘OK, OK.’ We like that about him. We respect that about him. We love that he’s able to, no matter what situation he’s in, he demands everybody’s attention when we’re out there, and we definitely respect that,” said 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

“You would think he’s been in the league 15 years…You would think he’s like Peyton Manning or something. Wide receivers not running? You’ll hear him cussing a wide receiver out,” commented Trent Williams, the left tackle for the 49ers.

Purdy built the trust of his teammates, his coaches, and the fan base even though he was a rookie who had never experienced a snap in the NFL until week 13. How can we apply some of our observations about what Purdy to our  working lives? Below are some lessons that I’ve learned about how to build trust among your team, your peers, and your boss, which are key determinants of success at work.

Building Trust with Your Team

One of the ways I get to know each member of my team and understand the team dynamics is for the group to do an Enneagram assessment. My teams and I have experienced aha moments as they get to know themselves and each other better. The assessment helps each team member see one another’s perspective and how they view the world, which oftentimes can be very different from their view. When we plot the entire team on the Enneagram wheel, it is eye-opening to see how each of us is unique. By visually seeing where each of us is on the wheel, we can see how wide and varied our strengths are, which might not have been obvious on the surface. I have always found that learning more about myself and others, especially their inner motivations, preferences, strengths, and blindspots engender a greater understanding of one another.

One small, but very fun way to start a meeting is to ask each team member the same question to break the ice and expose similarities and differences. The question can be simple and fun or work related, and they help to provide deeper insights into your team. Some of the questions I’ve been using lately are — what has been your favorite vacation and why, if you could change one thing about your job what would it be and when you were a child what was your dream career? The question I like to ask leading up to Halloween is what is your favorite candy, my big learning was that more them one person said, Candy Corn. That response was shocking to me!

For thousands of years, people have known that making and sharing meals are fantastic bonding experiences. So many traditions center around contributing and partaking in special dinners with the people who mean the most to us. On three occasions I’ve participated in team culinary classes. It is fun to see people step into new or different roles. Someone who might be quieter at the office might be a vocal leader in the kitchen. Or, on the flip side, the leader may have never picked up a knife and is fine observing the masters at work. One of my most fond memories was taking the team to a culinary class in San Jose. We were divided into multiple teams and had to complete delicious dishes that trained chefs judged us on. This was a evening of bounded us and build friendships that would not have been able to be formed through Zoom meetings.

Trust is the basis of all communications across teams. Showing up consistently for your team makes them feel valued, appreciated, and supported. Building positive relationships means you have a genuine interest in knowing someone, their values, their goals, their passions, and what matters to them. From this point trust flourishes and grows for both business and personal relationships.

Building Trust with Your Boss

Many people feel that trust can only be built after years and years of experience between two people. This certainly is one way to gain trust, but one of my biggest learnings around trust boils down to it being a choice we make. We must extend trust first and assume good intent from other people. The fundamental element of trust is that it’s a two-way street. When you trust someone, oftentimes the reciprocal happens. And if you mess up, be vulnerable and honest, which can further build the relationship. If the other person breaks your trust, forgive them. Nowhere is this more important than with your boss, especially if you are new to an organization.

The ability to be trusted and to give trust to others is critical to all relationships. Ideally, you and your boss have built a foundation where you can go direct to and share your perspective. As you continue forward with your boss/employee relationship demonstrating that you apply your good judgment to decisions, in good times and bad, shows your character. Especially when you are new to a company and you are trying to impact change in the organization.

If you are looking to be a change agent have courage and speak up. Showcase the expertise that you have built over the years to help your organization achieve all they can. Ensure that you are framing the conversation positively and tying your desire to a bigger-picture vision with the organization best interests in mind. Don’t make the discussion about a person or problem, but instead about what can be possible working as a team in the future. Show you are a champion for the organization, you are a change agent aligned with your boss, and you trust the leaders of the company.

Building Trust with Your Peers

Aligning with peers is a great way to have an impact across each of your teams. Ask your colleague to share their goals and plans for the coming quarter or year with you. Where can you two align on mutually beneficial projects? These peers can be great sources of advice and guidance about how the company operates and give you insight into the keys to success. Positive peer relationships you build across the organization have the opportunity to be some of the most transformational since each of you can being your expertise and learn from one another, but also be honest when something is not hitting the mark.

I’ve had many peers over the years, especially those leading Product Marketing, that are not shy about sharing guidance about messaging, competitive positioning, product press releases, and beyond. These conversations are the foundations for trust because both sides are aligned on the same end goal and want the best for the company. Trusting your peers to show up for you, and you being there for them, is critical. Seek their opinions and knowledge. This will contribute to advancing your knowledge.

Just as we saw Brock Prudy establish trust based on his leadership qualities, relationships, and decision-making, we can take these lessons and apply them to our everyday lives. While the 49ers season did not end with a trip to the Super Bowl, we saw a team come together after much adversity to achieve great things. Hopefully, next season they will build on the strong foundation they built this year and be Super Bowl champs for the sixth time.

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