My February blog focused on creating a team you can fall in love with. We explored finding just the right people – keeping the size small, creating diversity based on the nature of the project and recruiting confident, open personalities.

With the right people on your team, it’s now crucial to develop trust as its heart.

By trust, I’m not talking about having confidence in the competence of your team. If you have hired the right people, that’s a given.

I am talking about trust as vulnerability*. This is the core team quality in which you and your fellow team members are transparent, honest, and willing to share your weaknesses as well as your strengths.

In trusting teams, individual egos give way to collective bonds and shared commitment and responsibility. Trust based on vulnerability must start at the very top – with team leadership. Team leaders who embrace their own vulnerability and share who they really are, the good-the bad-the ugly, with their teams open a working space free of fear and full of possibility. They set the standard for establishing authentic relationships among all the team members.

How many of you have sat in a “brainstorming” meeting where new ideas are being shared by only a few, with the rest of the team literally sitting on their hands or looking down, unwilling to make eye contact? Put orange cones all around this table!

What’s missing? The core element of trust. All team members may be present, but it’s a closed meeting for only a few. The team leader sets the environment. Will it be open and free-flowing or will it be restricted and subdued? Which environment promotes progress?

I’d like to share six strategies that will help you create a trusting team that will be innovative, strong and ultimately successful.

One: Open and honest conversation – When we elevate our conversations from just exchanging information back and forth (the usual meeting reports) to having free and collaborative discussion around issues, energy builds, enthusiasm follows and new ideas emerge. And this means embracing positive and productive conflict. Managed properly, conflict within a truly trusting team should be encouraged – it can lead to real answers, strengthen team commitment and enhance collaboration. If conflicts are addressed openly, there will be a marked drop in unproductive conversations in the parking lot or around the water cooler.

Two: Assume the best in others – Approach your fellow team members with the mindset that every member is responsible and accountable in his/her team role and is committed to team success.

Three: Be inclusive, appreciative and respectful – This is paired with assuming the best. Depending on the purpose of the team, you are likely to have members from diverse professional backgrounds. Appreciate their contributions to the team effort and recognize and respect their unique roles. Everyone is important.

Four: Share mistakes – Only trusting teams are open to sharing weaknesses, but it’s critically important. The old adage that we learn from our mistakes is so true, but if we can’t be transparent about them with our fellow team members, the team can’t learn, and therefore can’t improve. So to strengthen the team, share your missteps and encourage everyone to be open about theirs.

Five: Collaborate – When you have open team discussion, you respect and appreciate each other for their contributions and you’re trusting enough to share your mistakes, your team can have true collaboration in their efforts to successfully create and develop its project.

Six: Celebrate success – Put the fun factor in your team’s work and recognize and reward your team for its successes – especially the small ones, all along the way to that big, final success. The team that recognizes and celebrates its accomplishments as a group, succeeds together.

Think back on the teams that you have most enjoyed working with. The ones that energized and inspired you to work through some of the most difficult challenges.

I am willing to assume that these were teams where there was real trust at the heart of team relationships.

How healthy is the heart of your present team?

Wishing you success in putting real heart into your team.

*Read more about the importance of vulnerability in establishing trust in Patrick Lencioni’s best seller, The Advantage.