The Great Eight: Trust

Bird on hand by Luca Venturi Oslo

(This post was originally shared at Leading by DESIGN, where I’m a team member. It is written for our LEAD 365 alumni, although all are welcome to read it.)

As I write this post, there are 6,289 books on trust available under the Business and Money category on Amazon. What can we possibly add to all that wisdom? Maybe nothing. But please keep reading anyway.

Trust is foundational to great teams, and so far—even in those 6,289 books—no one has developed the magic, one-size-fits-all formula to create trust on a team. Every team is different, but the need for high trust in order to be a high-functioning team is a constant.

There are different aspects to trust, like trusting someone’s integrity (believing that the person will do what they say they will do), trusting their intent (believing that they are trying to reach the same goal you are working to accomplish), and trusting their ability (believing that they have the skills and talent needed to do the task).

For example, I trust my brother’s integrity very much. I know I could show up with family and dog in tow if everything fell apart and he would take us in, no questions asked. I know that if I’m stranded somewhere in the middle of the night, he would come get me.

As much as I trust his integrity as a person, I would not work on a political campaign with him. Our political philosophies are quite different, and we might have very different goals in mind while working on the same campaign. (One of us must be looking for an opportunity for sabotage.)

He’s a graphic artist, and a very good one. I trust his talent and skill to design just about anything, but if I need open-heart surgery, there’s no way he’d be the one I go to. While I trust his talent as an artist, I do not trust his ability in the surgical theater.

These three aspects of trust all need to be present to make a great team. You need to trust each other’s integrity, intent, and ability—if any one of these are missing, you won’t accomplish as much as a team.

The big question is, how can a leader develop this kind of trust on their teams? Team retreats and blind trust walks certainly help, but the real secret to building a trusting team lies with you, the leader, being willing to communicate and model every day what trust looks like on a team. Here’s some of what we believe is needed to have a high-trust team:

Trusting teams have vulnerable leaders. As the leader, you have to model the kind of behavior you want to see. If you want your people to get to know each other’s root system, then you have to model that by being honest about who you are.

Trusting teams have leaders who admit their mistakes. Talk about being vulnerable! Some of the most powerful leadership stories I’ve heard start with a leader standing up in front of a team admitting a mistake, asking for forgiveness, and seeking to change and rebuild strained relationships. This is really hard, and it’s really powerful.

Trusting teams have leaders who consistently and openly give and ask for feedback. Although initially people might feel uncomfortable when receiving hard feedback (that discomfort is part of being human), over time, if you consistently give both positive and constructive feedback (remember that five-to-one ratio?) your team will develop great trust in you because they will always know where they stand. It’s hard not to trust someone who invests so much in you that they give you constant feedback.

Trusting teams have leaders who engage in conflict, and who help their team members do the same. It’s hard to trust someone who conveniently looks the other way when a performance issues comes up, or constantly finds a reason to delay a hard conversation. The healthiest teams engage in conflict in a healthy way, and, once again, that starts with you.

Trusting teams have leaders who trust each and every team member. If you doubt the integrity, intent, or ability of anyone on your team, how can you expect to build a high-trust team? If there are people on your team you do not trust, you need to do something about it.

This week, as you think about this part of building a great team, take a few minutes to think about your own team. How much trust does your team display? How might you foster trust on your team? How might you be hurting your own efforts to build trust without even realizing it? What does your team need the most from you in order for their trust to grow?

Until next week, lead on.
Meredith

Image by Luca Venturi Oslo. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.

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