How to Build Trust in a Team as a New Manager

Short Feb 14, 2021

When a new manager joins the team, team members often approach with suspicion. Accepting someone from outside as a new leader or supervisor is complicated. It depends on how well the previous manager was and how experienced the new leader is. However, if the new manager doesn't know the domain and the work, it becomes more challenging.

Even though gaining the team's trust is tricky, not knowing the domain might have an advantage. If the new manager doesn't know the field and the tech stack, they can't give suggestions by default. They instead ask questions as an outsider. More questions bring more clarity to work and force engineers to consider unexpected prospects.

The manager's lack of domain knowledge brings the team to a better place and helps build trust when the manager admits that they don't know. The situation brings the manager closer to the team. The team realizes that the manager puts a high priority on their knowledge and opinions.

The expertise rests with the team. The honesty and admittance bring the light on the manager trying to get better at what they are doing. As long as they see that, the trust starts to form.

Once the trust starts building up, the new manager will have more opportunities to take action. When someone joins the team and wants to change something, the people are doubtful. Every time before taking any action, making the intention clear by explaining why that action is necessary can help a lot in consolidating trust. Giving a carefully designed explanation and taking the described action afterward in the correct timeframe will allow future expectations to be more accurate. Each member will know that the manager is accountable and authentic.

While some actions require working with a group, there is also the aspect of individual trust. Keeping in mind the differences in every individual with their cultural backgrounds is crucial. Some people prefer to build trust based on accurate actions; others can wish to have a real personal relationship. The new manager should focus on understanding what kind of trust they should build with each team member.

If a person hopes to have a more personal relationship, the manager can focus on the clues about their direct reports' personal lives. A team member can be depressed or low because their cat was sick. Asking them how their cat is doing the next day shows that the manager cares about their problems.

However, the same approach doesn't work for some people who have a distinct separation between work and personal life. They might prefer having professional relationships. Asking them about their career goals and helping them plan a more satisfying future both inside and outside the company allows new managers to strengthen the relationship.

Above all, everything starts with listening, asking questions, and acting on the answers. Without listening with empathy, it's impossible to build trust and work with the team. Actively observing each individual's real needs is a powerful method. While asking questions bring clarity to work and shows that the new manager is trying their best to improve their work, accurately acting on the answers is the last step to creating creditability. Once all of them are combined and performed well, there is no reason for the team not to trust the manager.


Last Updated: 16.02.2021

Candost Dagdeviren

Sr. Software Engineer. Writes about software engineering, leadership, tech, cultural differences, and their effect on people.

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