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Building Trust in Your Sales Team: 5 Takeaways from TED and HBR

By Laura Burrus

Simon Sinek's inspiring TED Talk about why good leaders make you feel safe got me thinking about the implications when it comes to running a business and a sales team. In his discussion, Sinek points out that the military gives awards to those who give their lives for others. We call them heroes, honor them with ceremonies and reward them with medals for their bravery and selflessness. Of course, these folks deserve to be recognized for their contribution. Those who serve in the military understand that trust is what binds a team together. They've got each others’ backs and without that, they wouldn’t be able to carry out an assignment successfully.

When we talk about teams in business, it's a different story. Often, those who are most outspoken are recognized and those who self-promote (even at the expense of others) are rewarded.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, employees who find it necessary to protect their own interests will often avoid helping others because they’re unsure if their efforts will be recognized or reciprocated. This can be especially true in sales teams – most sales people are by nature competitive and where incentives are usually structured around individual goals, rather than team accomplishments.

The absence of trust leaves room for insecurities to build walls between team members. A team built on trust will provide a culture where employees feel safe to ask for help, give help and share weaknesses.

So, how can you create a culture built on trust when you have hyper-competitive people in your sales team? Here are five keys to get you started.

1. Lead by Connecting

Building trust starts with the leadership team. The HBR article highlights two of the most influential traits of leaders: warmth and strength. By first connecting with your sales team and understanding their concerns, you’ll demonstrate that you can be trusted. On the flip side, leading with strength often forces the employee to trust you out of fear. Emotions like fear can cause employees to disengage from their work and can often hinder their creative and problem solving potential. They won’t feel like their ideas or opinions matter to you because your lack of warmth and understanding will be hidden by your fear-inducing tactics.

2. Encourage Healthy Conflict

it can be scary for your sales team to share their weaknesses or opinions when they don't know how you, or the rest of the team will react. Will they get attacked, laughed at? Or will they get the help and support they need? The goal of conflict should be to find a solution to a problem. It shouldn't be about proving your point or who is right or wrong. When employees trust their leadership and teams, they'll be more willing to engage in healthy conflict.

3. Reward Commitment

Commitment requires your team to be vulnerable with and support each other. Without a foundation of trust, your team might comply outwardly, but will lack sincere commitment to each other and to the values of your company. During your weekly sales meetings, recognize the team members who have upheld your team values throughout the week. Give specific examples of how the team member demonstrated commitment, trust or accountability. Team members who are focused on self-promotion at the expense of others aren’t truly committed. Don’t let their toxic behavior ruin your teams.

4. Encourage Accountability

Peer accountability happens when your team is striving toward the same goal, trust each other and are committed to each other. Consider tying part of your sales team's compensation to a team goal. Your team will have to share the burden to meet the team goal and you'll help encourage peer accountability. For a sales team, celebrating team quotas rather than personal ones can not only help build a team culture, but will help grow your business quicker.

5. Share Results

Help your employees understand how their role affects the company. When employees see the big picture and how the results of their role fit into that picture, they'll be more willing to take ownership of it and realize they can accomplish more as a team. Create an environment where individual results can be shared, but are not used against an individual. Use individual results to show how the team result is affected when one doesn't meet their individual goal.

When sales teams trust each other, there's healthy conflict, commitment to the company, accountability to each other and attention to results. Sounds like a great recipe for company growth to me!

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