#6 Building Trust

In today’s episode we dissect trust, think of ways to build it in our team and we ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Trust, where do we start? I suppose that before looking about what trust actually is, should we have a quick recap of why it matters?

Does Trust Matter?

Does it matter? Do you think it matters? What does lack of trust look like in a team, in an organisation? What does “plenty of trust” look like? And is there such a thing as “too much trust”?

A word of warning, this episode might leave you with more questions than answers but if you’re up to it, let’s begin.

My first question, when talking about trust, is, it’s important to trust others… to do what? A team where people trust each other to do a good job and act in the best interest of the team is going to look very different a team where people trust each other to keep their heads down when there are problems between individuals.

Just the fact that some kind of trust exists between team members is not enough to have a high-performing team, one that can trouble shoot, one that can innovate. But if we have the kind of trust that allows people to fee like they can rely on each other to make decisions for them in their best interest, then, well I think we’re onto a winner.

The Benefits of Trust

Where there is trust, there is speed. (Remember the book titled The Speed of Trust) If we know that the information somebody gives us is reliable, we don’t need to check it. (Speed) If we trust one person to make a decision for the rest of us, that decision is made faster. If we trust that everyone in our team will flag up problems when they see them, we won’t be constantly checking and monitoring the work.

But it’s not all about speed. It’s also about reducing uncertainty in our working relationships. It’s about creating an atmosphere (whether this atmosphere is palpable, in a room, or created across technology like in a virtual team) it’s about creating an atmosphere where people feel like they can get on with their work and find the support they need when they need it – and know that others will ask for help from them too, when they come across a block.

As a manager, you want people to trust you so that you can make decisions on behalf of the team and they can back you up with their hard work; you need them to trust you so that they know you’ll represent them at their best in other parts of the organisation and beyond; Isn’t it better to have relationships at work based on trust than on power?

Yeap, as you are sipping your drink I hear you think, “easier said than done”. So let’s try to break down this trust business and see where we get to…

Two Types of Trust

First I’d like to share with you definitions of two types of trust.

One is calculus based trust, that is, you have trust in people that they’ll do the right thing because the consequences for them not to do so would be harsh. That… to put it in a simple way, is just not nice. To know that people’s behaviour is driven by fear of punishment means that we’ll never be able to rely on them to go the extra mile.

The type of trust we’re looking to nurture is identification-based trust, where people understand each others’ values and interests, and so can rely on others to act in their best interest.

How your team members get to know each other and how we learn to empathise with others will be different in each team. For some, going out for lunch together or for a drink after work will allow people to get to know each other as people, not just professionals. For other teams, having regular in-depth conversations about the team process and our values might be more effective; In other teams, working closely on tasks together might be what people need to understand each others’ points of view and work styles better. Sometimes trust gets built when we deal together with a mistake, with a failure, when we focus on analyzing a problem and designing the next steps to move forwards.

As a manager, a team leader, or someone in charge of a team process, or someone who just wants to improve the team process, it might help to look at trust in teams as having two components. One is the role of the individual – trusting others and being trusted. And the second component is the trust that we have in the team in being able to perform at its best.

The Individual and the Team

Let’s take the first component, the individual. How much do you trust people? How much do you tend to trust someone until they show they can’t be trusted? Or do you operate in the opposite way, you tend not to trust someone until they show they can be trusted? You’ll need to be aware of this propensity to trust, as it will affect your behaviour and your work style.

In those teams which need to form quickly together, like emergency teams, trust needs to be built rapidly. And in those cases when we have to work closely with people we might have never met in person, like virtual teams, we need to know what it takes for us to trust someone to deliver the work and act in the interest of the common good, even if they don’t have someone looking over their shoulder (both literally and metaphorically).

It might now be a good time to break down trust into specific components, into those behaviours that can make us trust someone and be trusted. Breaking trust down can help us to analyse a gut feeling we might have about someone. “Mmm, I’m not sure I trust her… Ok, why might that be?”

The Components of Trust

Reliability – do you do what you say you’re going to do? Or, just as important, do you communicate when you’re not going to do something you said you’d do?

Integrity – do your actions match those values they say they have?

And along similar lines, do your words match your actions? Do you act with congruity?

Transparency – how much do you make your intentions and your thinking process available to others? Do people think you have a hidden agenda – or more to the point, have you got a hidden agenda?

And finally, we can’t forget competence, which is really important when we’re looking at relationships at work. Can people trust you to do a good job? Or can they trust you to know and communicate, when you need help?
Once we’ve looked at ourselves, we can start to think about what kind of processes our team needs to strengthen trust between individuals. It could well be that we need to look at improving our results. That could strengthen our feeling of competence, which could strengthen trust in each other. (To hear more on team development, check out episode 4 of this podcast).

Or we might need more transparency in our work. Or we might need to learn to say no, to stop making promises to each other that we can rarely keep…

Building Trust in Your Team

The ways of building trust are numerous, if you feel like this is something you need to address, you have to dig deep into what’s going on in your team, or the behaviour you are role-modelling.
At another level, we can also build trust in the team by continuously revisiting our purpose. Why are we working together and does our behaviour help us achieve our goals? These kind of conversations move the focus away from the individual team members and allow us to talk about making mistakes and solving problems, making our thought processes clearer.

Making the time to have conversations about the team process, about what we’re finding difficult, what we’re struggling with and, let’s not forget, those things we are proud of and succeeding in make us more transparent. And, in most cases, this transparency helps us to understand each other better and feel safer with each other.

When I say “feel safer” I don’t mean that where there is trust there is no conflict. On the contrary, if there is no conflict, there is probably also not much trust. If I can’t trust you to tell me if I’m holding back your own work, I’ll be constantly worried that it’s going to come up in our next team review meeting; if I can’t trust you to speak up if I’m going down the wrong path with my work, I’ll be afraid to innovate; if we never disagree on our team process or our how to go about a task… well… there’s probably no trust, and actually not much care for the work.

I suppose this is related to the point about being transparent: trust exists when you know you can be transparent, when you know you can be vulnerable and that your vulnerabilities won’t come to bite you back. So crucial in what the levels of trust are like in a team, will be how we deal with our mistakes.

Right, the café’s getting full and I’d better be off before the waitress comes back to ask me to leave… I trust her to do that, you see… I hope these thoughts have been of some help –


I’ll just recap what I ‘ve talked about so far, although let me see if I can frame the points as reflection questions:

What do you trust your team members to be able to do? What do you think they trust you to do? (Go on, I dare you to ask them…)

How long does it take you to trust someone, how high or low is your propensity to trust?

What can you do to build identification-based trust, when people feel like you understand their needs and values?

If you feel like trust is at low levels in your team, why might that be? What behaviours are you observing – what behaviours are you role-modelling?

Do you observe integrity, reliability, transparency…?
How much do you know about each other’s work styles, preferences and values?

Recommended Reading

The Trust Effect by Larry Reynolds,

where he suggests eight practices to help build a high-trust organisation. I’ll leave you with a quote, where he talks about lateral relationships in an organisation, like those among team members or across teams.

“Lateral relationships have many advantages – but they only work if there is trust. Because the hierarchy isn’t there, you can’t fall back on power relationships when the going gets tough. And it’s no use basing lateral relationships on hope – if they are to work in the long term, they have to be based on trust.”

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