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Building a Culture of Trust – to Create Shared Leadership

This is the ninth in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change. This series was introduced in a previous post.

Over the last two weeks we’ve been discussing the importance of creating shared leadership for any social change to be truly sustainable. Amy Celep, CEO of Community Wealth Partners, suggested that building a foundation and culture of trust is a key step in creating a shared leadership. This week I would like to offer a few practical suggestions you can implement with your colleagues and partners to develop that all-important culture of trust.

In order to achieve truly shared leadership, we know groups must first build a culture of trust. As a consultant who is also a former psychotherapist, I have facilitated high stakes conversations with diverse groups more times than I can count. I have learned the importance of taking these 3 steps:

1. Increase team members’ self awareness.

2. Help individuals understand their teammates.

3. Set common expectations for the group’s work.

The first step to building trust within groups is developing each group member’s self-awareness about the things most relevant to the work you’ll be doing together. You may suggest that your team members take tests like the one Community Wealth Partners has every new employee take — Gallup’s Clifton Strengths Finder — which gives individuals insights into the ways they interact with and understand the world. New teams can also be encouraged to answer questions such as: What excites you about being on this team and doing this work? What unique perspective or skill do you most want to use to enhance the group’s work? What are some of your limitations you are hoping others on the team can help you work around?

The next step—creating an environment of mutual understanding—is to share what you know about yourself with the whole group. Being transparent about what brought you to the work, the value you want to bring, and the areas where you’ll look to others to take the lead is key. Getting on the same page about how you will all work together helps groups align values, understand complementary skills, and utilize the diversity of perspectives which is so useful for effective decision making.

A third step that has helped many teams build the trust necessary to share leadership is setting expectations for why the group is gathering and the roles each individual will play. In my experience, groups who take the time to answer these questions tend to see higher retention rates and less burn out: What is the overarching goal the group is trying to achieve? Why is that goal important to each team member? What is each person’s role on the team? Clarifying each individual’s role helps ensure team members feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the group’s success.

Once you’ve built trust, we know it’s not always easy to maintain trust. Taking these two steps has helped many groups maintain the trust they worked so hard to build:

  1. Hold each individual accountable. This can be as simple as following up with individuals regarding the things they’ve agreed to do. What’s most important here is that every partner is held accountable for their piece of the work.
  2. Track and celebrate success. Even the most idealistic partners can easily begin to turn their attention to other efforts if they don’t regularly see the impact of the group’s work.

What steps are you and your partners taking to create shared leadership? To build trust? Have your teams taken other steps not yet mentioned here?

We would love to hear from you about what you have found works best! Comment on this post or share your thoughts with us on Twitter.

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About Becky Emet

As a consultant, Becky Emet leads client engagements, advises and coaches leaders, and spearheads internal teams to develop solutions and deliverables through research and analysis. Becky has helped leaders focused on healthcare, education, and hunger develop new goals and strategies to scale their impact. See Becky's full bio