Blog Post 5-1-14

Trust: A Team Imperative

“Technique and technology are important, but adding trust is the issue of the decade.” – Tom Peters

Something was off, and Armella couldn’t quite put her finger on it. The team was moving more slowly, taking longer to make decisions. Whispered conversations in the hallways would end abruptly as she approached. In meetings, everyone was overly polite to each other and there was no real debate about critical issues. When she tried to describe exactly what was different about the team, she realized that people were constantly questioning each other’s motives. That didn’t used to happen, she thought. What was going on?

When a team stops functioning effectively the issue often reveals itself to be a lack of trust. The challenge with addressing a trust issue is that it takes a continuous, sustained effort composed of activities that may seem superfluous to team members when there’s a lot of work to be done. Here are two key components of trust:

1. Trust in competence is the trust I have in someone when I know they have the skill, knowledge and ability to do a good job
2. Trust in motivation is the ability to trust that a person has my best interests at heart and wants me to succeed and to look good

In order to have trust in competence I must get to know my teammates well and understand their strengths, weaknesses, talents and passions. In order to have trust in motivation I must get to know my teammates on a personal level and build a strong relationship in which we give each other the benefit of the doubt when one of us does something the other doesn’t understand or agree with. In both cases, we must be willing to be vulnerable and admit mistakes without fear of negative consequences. And all of this must begin with the leader, because if the leader doesn’t model these behaviors no one else will either.

That’s a whole lot of getting to know each other that needs to go on. How do you focus a busy team on something that may seem “touchy feely” to them? Team health or team building sessions can be useful places to start. We don’t mean taking the team out for a ropes course or blindfolding everyone for trust falls. Rather, carve out some time for the team to get away from the day-to-day activity in the office and discuss personal strengths and opportunities, align on goals and roles, identify team values and norms, have in-depth discussions on important topics--not rushed conversations in the hall--and generally get to know each other within the context of your business objectives.

But a team building session or series of sessions can only be the beginning of your effort. It’s important to follow up on any insights or commitments from your sessions and revisit the discussion on a regular basis. It’s also important to continue giving the team time to get to know each other on a personal level, whether it’s through coordinating break times, holding an occasional lunch meeting, or simply walking around the office to say hello a little more often.

Are you wondering if trust is absent or broken on your own team? Look for these warning signs:

• The team lacks commitment or follow-through on important action steps
• Communication seems strained, or artificially polite
• People ask more questions about directives than they used to and question each other’s motives
• Team members don’t share relevant information with each other
• Everything seems to take longer than it used to

Don’t wait for lack of trust to become an explicit topic of conversation because that may never happen. Absence of trust is a subtle, creeping phenomenon that may derail your team before anyone notices that it’s happening. It’s up to you as the leader to recognize the signs and take action.

To learn more about CI International’s unique and field proven approach to building team trust contact Alli Christie at or at 303-679-6335 ext 115.