How Do You Build Trust?

When I talk to clients about the best team they’ve ever been in, the one attribute that’s always mentioned is “Trust”. High performing teams (and organisations) are built on relationships and trust is without doubt the foundation of effective relationships. In great teams the trust factor is very high.

In contrast, poor performing teams inevitably have a low trust factor. If your team has low trust, your job as a leader is going to be very challenging. Trying to create a high performing team that has an absence of trust is like trying to build on quicksand. It’s not going to happen.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni suggests that an absence of trust is the first dysfunction of poor performing teams, because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction, the fear of conflict. According to Lencioni the lack of unfiltered conflict leads to a lack of commitment (the third dysfunction), which results in an avoidance of accountability (the fourth dysfunction) and ultimately the final dysfunction, an inattention to results.

So how do you build trust?

Trust is a pretty abstract concept. In Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, Michelle and Dennis Reina talk about the concept of “transactional trust” which is reciprocal and created incrementally (step by step). They suggest that there are three facets of transactional trust: The Trust of Character – Contractual Trust; The Trust of Disclosure – Communication Trust; and the Trust of Capability – Competence Trust. They outline some specific behaviour that generates the different facets of trust in the workplace.

Trust of Character Trust of  Disclosure Trust of Capability
  • Managing expectations
  • Encouraging mutually serving intentions
  • Keeping agreements
  • Establishing boundaries
  • Delegating appropriately
  • Being consistent
  • Sharing Information
  • Telling the truth
  • Admitting mistakes
  • Giving and receiving constructive feedback
  • Maintaining Confidentiality
  • Speaking with good purpose (no gossip)
  • Acknowledging people’s skills and abilities
  • Allowing people to make decisions
  • Involving others and seeking their input
  • Helping people learn skills

In discussing these behaviours with my colleague, Dr John Waters, we felt that some things were particularly important for leaders trying to create a high performing team. For us, four things are critical to maintaining shared trust within a team.

  1. Maintaining open-mindedness and a free exchange of ideas. Team members need to value and respect each other’s ideas and be prepared to engage in constructive conflict.
  2. Encouraging team members to be available physically and emotionally to help others when they are under work or personal pressures.
  3. Ensuring that there are no surprises that embarrass or make team members look bad.  Team members need to handle delicate matters with tact.
  4. Ensuring that shared information does not provide the opportunity for its use for personal advantage.  Divided loyalties, especially inner conflicts, need to be revealed and shared if trust is not to be broken.

Take a minute and think about what you are currently doing to build trust.

  • Are you modeling these behaviours?
  • Are you making it known to your team that this is what you want from them and how you expect them to behave as a group?
  • Is your team demonstrating shared trust?

Creating a high trust factor in a team doesn’t happen overnight. But spelling out what you want from each other and then holding each other to account is a good start. If you are serious about creating a high performing team, you’ve got to spend the time building (and rebuilding) trust. The alternative is not really an option.

Mark Rosenberg