Organization & Leadership Consulting

Trust is Foundational to Team Success

A team of bees trust each other to get work done

“Your team is not winning because of trust issues,” I tell my daughter this when she asks why her soccer team consistently under-performs. Many leaders ask the same question. Why do talented and highly educated employees have difficulty succeeding together? 

Trust is foundational to other team dynamics. Just as my daughter’s soccer coach was not aware of this important factor, many in management and leadership roles remain stuck with underperforming teams because the heat generated by the team is due to friction rather than functioning well. 

Patrick Lencioni, in “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, asserts other factors of team success fail without trust. To build trust, team members must authentically share thoughts and feelings. Teams that get the right things done well, in time, and under budget don’t hold back with each other. 

However, certain conditions must exist for that to be the norm. Another is a belief they can speak without fear of reprisal. The leader must create and protect an environment of psychological safety. To do so requires clarified expectations and healthy accountability to them. It takes thoughtful effort, ongoing coaching, and lots of positive reinforcement.

Achieving mutual trust also requires team members to overcome invulnerability. Without vulnerability, the strength of the team is actually weakened. Again, the leader must set the example. Vulnerability makes us more human to each other. Respect for individuals and roles keeps authority properly in place even while vulnerability oils the hinges on which communication opens or closes. 

Trust is strengthened as team members respectfully: 1) identify and discuss individual strengths and weaknesses for the sake of the team’s purposes, and 2) spend considerable time in face-to-face meetings, work sessions, and social settings for their personal benefit

What is the evidence of trust among a team? Here is a partial list:

Teams in Which Trust is Low or Difficult to Restore: 

  • Members conceal their weaknesses and mistakes. Feedback is avoided.
  • Grudges are not only held, they are brought up…often behind others’ backs. 
  • Members quickly jump to conclusions about the intentions of others. 
  • Meetings are boring, ineffective, even dreaded.
  • New members sense they are expected to fail (sometimes outrightly told so).

Teams in Which Trust is High and Easily Restored: 

  • Members candidly admit mistakes and acknowledge personal weaknesses. 
  • They give one another the benefit of the doubt and seek clarification. 
  • They appreciate and tap into one another’s skills, experience, and perspective. 
  • Apologies are offered and accepted without hesitation. 
  • Meetings are anticipated and seen as opportunities to contribute and learn.

The team members at TurningWest have personally experienced the above realities. We have since learned more about them. We do what we do now because we know we can help you avoid the pain of low-trust scenarios and instead flourish with others in high-trust environments. 

TurningWest – Your Guide to Healthy Human Work Systems Your well-being is important to us. We can help you navigate any set of issues you need to find your way through. Contact us today.

-by Melody Cullum, with Joel Rude


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