The Importance of Trust in a Team

Trust is an interesting concept in that we all "know" what it is, but it can be hard to define what role it really has for a specific setting or situation. Suffice it to say that I think we can all agree that trust is the foundation to any healthy relationship. This is just as true in a professional relationship as it is in a personal relationship. In fact, everything that is about to be discussed could be applied to both an executive team of a Fortune 500 company as well as a parent and their teenage child, but the intent of this article is to focus on the former.

Merriam-Webster defines trust as:

-assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something

This definition seems simple enough, but what does it really mean in a team and what impact could it possibly have on a company?

In the workplace---more specifically within a group that is working towards a common goal (be it a whole company or a small task force) ---there are numerous characteristics that make a great team. Forbes has a great article that lists five attributes of a great team as having:

  • A clear vision

  • An inspiring leader

  • Team cooperation

  • Constructive communication

  • Appreciation all around

These are excellent characteristics and it’s not too hard to think of a few more, but there is a strong argument that trust is at the base of all of them. Some might argue that communication would be a good contender, but let's consider the idea that communication is a tool used (successfully) when a basis of trust exists. Consider the attributes listed above; all of them couldn’t exist without a healthy element of trust between every member in the team.

Trust in the workplace involves several passive and active behaviors including, but not limited to: knowing and having faith in how each member can contribute, being totally honest and (yet) supportive when communicating, knowing when to listen, and being dependable. Trust in the workplace ultimately can be hard work to build between coworkers regardless of the hierarchy that may or may not exist. Even harder is rebuilding if it is ever lost.

The author Patrick Lencioni wrote it best that "Great teams do not hold back one another... They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal." A great team is going to invite debate and beyond that each individual feels confident in expressing their ideas, feels safe to challenge others’ ideas, doesn't let their own ego get in the way when someone challenges their ideas, and can admit and openly discuss mistakes that were made.

These requirements lend themselves to being easily applicable to a meeting setting with people around a table, but it also applies to work relationships between each person in the group while they are sitting at their desk sorting emails. Trust between each team member means that everyone has an underlying confidence in the skills of each other member and doesn't feel the need to overstep responsibilities, clarify others’ emails, or remove (see: protect) themselves from a project or situation that looks to be going south.

Without trust: problems can snowball, innovation can stagnate, critical communication is stifled, and people often begin to develop the silo mentality.

So how to improve trust in a team?

  • Competency: First things first, everyone on the team needs to be competent in their area of expertise. Without ability or purpose, it is hard for an individual to be responsible for tangible portions of a goal. Even if that individual is well liked…

  • Credibility: All members need to be transparent and truthful by sharing both the good news and the bad news with the team. That means owning up to mistakes, admitting to being wrong, and taking responsibility. In return the team needs to be able to meet the bad news head on.

  • Reliability: Consistent following through of tasks is key. Individuals need to do what they say they are going to do as well as do what they are meant to do. Letting things slip because no one said to do it doesn’t show commitment. At the same time don’t over-promise or take on too much responsibility as it often leads to failures and/or mistakes.

Patrick Lencioni has an excellent diagram from his book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" that illustrates the qualities of a great team with trust being at the base. It is a quick, but good read that takes a much deeper dive into the subject.

It is interesting to note that results is located at the top. Granted results are most often what keep people employed and company doors open; they are also the metric to gauge how well a team/company is performing internally and ultimately how much trust really exists within. Another way to think about it would be to pose this question:

To what degree could a company improve and expand the services or products they provide and enhance the relationships with clients by focusing on---and improving---the core trust within the company? employees-improve-how-you-re-perceived team/#1fc2d6c91c02 barriers/#2fccdfa98c7e

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