Building a Culture of Trust in Product Teams

After revisiting my recent Product Top Tips from Berlin based industry leaders Bastian Eichler (Civey), Saurabh Shah (Market Logic Software), and Maia Mryasova (IPONWEB), I noticed some key themes around the importance of transparency, communication, and team trust. Trust is a topic that has also come through in our UK Product Top Tips and wider research around building world class digital and tech teams. With that being said, I thought it would be worth diving deeper into this topic to find out why trust is so important, and how Product Leaders can build a culture of trust in their own teams.

Why is trust important in Product Teams?

For a workplace to be truly cohesive, collaborative, productive and efficient, trust is absolutely fundamental. When trust is present in a team, people show up to work hard because their contributions are welcomed and valued, and therefore motivation and morale are naturally elevated. Having trust within teams is an asset to helping break down silos, foster collaboration, strengthen teamwork, communication and engagement, and manage organisation change and projects. When trust is absent, people work for themselves with little to no consideration for other people or the overall business goal. What results is people hoarding information, playing it safe, and failing to be creatively solve problems efficiently.

Working in a trusting environment, increases psychological safety and confidence, as well as mutual respect, which all contribute to effective and productive teamwork. Trust encourages questioning, which inevitably leads to better decision making, because ideas are challenged and improved collectively rather than teams just following orders that may not lead to the best outcome because they are uncomfortable offering their ideas and opinions. This increases creativity, innovation, whilst minimising miscommunication leading to higher productivity and more successful outcomes.

Trust is important for everyone, and this includes leaders trusting their team members. This has been put to the test in the last 12 months with the enforcement of remote working for many employees. Here, leaders had to learn how to lead from a distance and had to get used to trusting their teams even more as it became harder to monitor performance. The fact is, many leaders feel it necessary to micromanage, and that urge comes from a sense of mistrust. Micromanagement, however, dents employee morale as they feel like they aren’t trusted to do their jobs. Whilst it’s acceptable to have catch ups and communicate freely on updates, it becomes problematic when leaders constantly hound their employees for specific and immediate updates.

Building Trust in the Workplace as a Product Manager

Based on conversations I have had with prominent Berlin product leaders, here are five general tips on how to build trust into your teams within the workplace.

  1. Transparent & Honest Communication – ALWAYS

    All communication should be clear, concise, transparent, and accessible. This includes honest feedback on projects between any employees regardless of seniority, transparent payment structures and progression pathways, and access to concise policy and process documentation. Everyone should be part of a clear and transparent communication system where the same information, message, or update is shared with everyone.
  2. Involve Team Members in Decision Making

    An idea should never be dismissed. Whether it’s good or bad everyone in the team should have the ability to contribute to discussions and projects. If someone has something constructive to share, or a new idea to suggest, always hear that person out, and make there are opportunities throughout the process for people to speak up.
  3. Create a Culture of Accountability

    Failing to keep to the commitments you make is the quickest way to lose trust. And even where there are failures, which do naturally happen, it’s important that people are comfortable with owning up to mistakes. Leaders can monitor progress and performance from afar, and use project management tools to track this, so that they can step in to offer support and advice where needed, to prevent these failures from happening.
  4. Redefine Failure

    Make failures and mistakes nothing more than a learning opportunity. Review them, explore the consequences and how to fix them, and also put in place strategies to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Define failure as a natural part of growth, and something that is to be expected not feared. Remove the narrative of shame and negativity from failing and explain how failure actually contributes to success in the end. This ensures people are more likely to be honest about mistakes, thus contributing to a trusting environment.
  5. Avoid Micromanagement

    Ensure your teams all have the skills and tools need fulfil their part of the process independently. For product teams this could be enabling certain teams or squads to fully design, develop, test, and release their part of the product to production. Each team self-organises and decides their own way of working, with only guidance, interference, and support from leadership when required. This shows that leadership is trusting the team and not micro-managing their decisions, giving them more autonomy, investment, and responsibility.

Tips for Product Managers on Creating Trust in their Teams

Homing in a bit further on what Product Leaders in particular can do to instil a culture of trust in their Product teams, I compiled this list of top tips based on my contacts suggestions, as well as wider research:

  1. Know what you don’t know and be comfortable with asking teams to clarify their decisions, methodologies, and terminology. Position yourself as a keen learner. Refrain from using terminology you aren’t sure of, as incorrect use can damage reputation.
  2. Clearly communicate the vision of the product with as much clarity as possible to build trust in the timeline, product, and your leadership of that journey.
  3. Provide consistent and honest feedback to team members and enable them to provide honest feedback to you too, to build a culture of trust and mutual respect.
  4. Study the product. You need to be the most well-informed person on the team, so definitely do your research so you’re in a position to be the best possible leader and guide for the team.
  5. Communicate excessively. Provide documentation, diagrams, updates as frequently as necessary to keep everyone on the same page. This avoids miscommunication.
  6. Have team spirit! Your success rides on your team, so when something goes wrong, take responsibility, and when things go right, credit your team. This will make them feel respected and valued.
  7. Be empathetic and approachable so that team members will trust you enough to calmly respond to both personal and professional challenges and problems. This is fundamental to maintaining a healthy team as well as effective and efficient product delivery.


Building a Culture of Trust as a Product Manager

There are so many other facets of building trust in teams, but to highlight some of the key points I have taken away from speaking with product leaders, I have summarised some key points:

  • Honest and transparent communication is an absolute must, and this must work both ways between teams and leaders
  • If you inspire your teams, and give them a collective goal to work towards that they can impact and influence on a personal basis, they will work harder without you needing to micromanage them
  • Be open and honest about your own mistakes and show that taking responsibility is a great asset and characteristic to possess
  • Set your team up for success, and intervene to prevent failure so that they can trust you to act as a safety net

Partner with Maxwell Bond - Award Winning Product Recruitment, Manchester & Berlin

Partner with Maxwell Bond, the award-winning specialist Product recruitment partner of choice across the UK and Germany for perm and contract staffing solutions. Get in touch to discuss how ourr stress-free recruitment solutions which save you time and money, whilst keeping your Product Teams ahead of the competition.

If you’d like to feature as a contributor for Product Top Tips German Edition or Product Top Tips UK Edition, please get in touch!