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Building Trust With a New Team

Psychological Safety
New Manager

28 June, 2021

Anand Safi
Anand Safi

Engineering Leader | Mentor & Coach | Advisor at Mark43

Anand Safi, Engineering Manager at Mark43, shares how he approaches building trust with a team he never worked with before, emphasizing the difficulties a remote context entails.

Problem

Every engineering manager has been in a situation to be assigned a team they never worked with before. Surrounded by new and unfamiliar people, building trust comes as a prerequisite and foundation on which everything else rests. However, building trust with a new team and within a remote context gets more challenging because the new manager doesn’t get a chance to meet their team members in person. In the absence of facetime and lack of physical proximity, establishing trust for many managers becomes exceedingly difficult.

Actions taken

First and foremost, I would arrange for regular one-on-ones with every person on the team, as getting to know them better is imperative. We would try to avoid talking about the work and would focus on the people’s side of things -- what they like to do, their pain points, and their long- and short-term goals. I would like to learn as much as I could about their motivation and how I could inspire their productivity and growth. Being honest and genuinely interested in their life is something that, in my opinion, lays the foundation for trust.

I would also make sure that building rapport is perceived as a top priority from day one. The team should know what I value and that I will not be a distant figure or authority, uninvolved and unsupportive. On the contrary, they need to know that I would strive to create a congenial and supportive environment where every individual would feel safe and be encouraged to perform to their full potential.

Next, I would recognize their efforts, and if there was a need for external recognition, I would work to ensure it. Sometimes, a new manager would cast a shadow on their team’s work and thus -- intentionally -- minimize their visibility. That would be the last thing I would want. Whatever achievement or progress the team was making -- even that I was not yet able to entirely grasp it -- I would make it visible to my manager and other stakeholders. I would use All-hands, email updates, and status meetings to highlight their effort and make sure the team gets the recognition it deserves.

Finally, I would try to shield the team from whatever was happening outside so that they could stay focused. For example, I took it upon myself to intensify communication with other stakeholders because I didn’t want them to probe my team too much and disrupt their workflow. Frequently internal stakeholders would take advantage of a new EM and double down on requests to the team. To prevent that, I would have internal stakeholders liaise with me, and I wouldn’t mind spending additional time filtering their requests. Being able to shield the team and protect them from unreasonable requests also increased their trust.

Lessons learned

  • Building trust should come first, before anything else. The more time I invest in relationships with people, the more I am rewarded through their increased motivation. That is especially true in a remote context, where people yearn to stay connected. Pinging them to ask them how they are doing or if I could help is not micromanaging, or nagging, or any of the sort. It is genuine care. By doing so, you are not checking upon them; you are caring about them.
  • Ensuring recognition doesn’t work for everyone the same way. Some people like to be praised for their laborious work, and others like to keep low key. The most effective way to approach it would be to talk with a person and see if they are comfortable with me praising their work publicly and, if not, how they would prefer to get recognition.

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