Please drink this!

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.

Imagine if we could just give others a ‘trust me’ potion.  Life would be so much easier!

Trust is the elixir, the magic potion for relationships between people. Once deep trust is established great things can happen.

So, what are the benefits of achieving high levels of trust?

Stephen MR Covey, author of ‘The Speed of Trust’ claims trust has wide ranging benefits for organisations.  Enhanced innovation, increased collaboration, better execution, shareholder return, financial growth and loyalty are hard to ignore. [SOT summary].  Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage and the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, explains how ‘vulnerability based trust’ is a key foundational element for teams and that they are unlikely to perform well without it. [Lencioni TED talk]. And of course we all know the importance of trust in personal relationships.

Let’s take a closer look at trust. What’s important to know?

First, trust is built between two people; not a group.

What we mean by this is that in order to have team trust, you need to have each relationship in the team to have trust. Where one relationship between two team members is one of suspicion and misunderstanding the whole team suffers.

The power of the team is only as good as its weakest link.

We love Stephen MR Covey’s concept of trust accounts. Here are some of his points:

1. Recognise each relationship has two trust accounts – the way you perceive the amount of trust in a relationship may be very different from how the other person sees it.

2. Each Trust Account is unique – what each person requires may be different.

3. All deposits and withdrawals are not created equal – often little things are disproportionately large.

4. What constitutes a ‘deposit’ to one person may not to another – be aware of what the other person would see as a deposit.

5. Withdrawals are typically larger than deposits – in general withdrawals have a much larger impact and can completely wipe out all of the deposits.

6. Sometimes the fastest way to build trust is to stop making withdrawals.

Secondly, there is more than one level or type of trust.

We see trust as having three levels; each level signifying deeper trust than the last and each level harder to achieve and maintain.


Level 1 = Reliability based trust – being able to rely on someone’s competence, capacity and motivation to do what they said they would do. Can I trust this person will do what they say? Do a good job? Perform as expected? Will I trust their abilities and motivation to do so?

Level 2 = Relate-ability based trust – seeing the person as empathetic, compatible and non-judgmental. Can I trust that this person will be able to relate to me and empathise without judgment? Will we get along well and work well together?

Level 3 = Intentionality based trust – seeing the person as honorable, caring and safe. Can I trust that this person has good intention, and is honourable? Will I feel totally safe sharing and opening up? Am I sure this person cares about me and has my back?

This level is particularly tough to achieve and maintain because of what Patrick Lencioni alludes to as the Fundamental Attribution Error – our tendency to falsely attribute the negative behaviours of others to their character (internal attribution), while attributing one’s own negative behaviours to environmental factors (an external attribution).

Can we operate effectively relying on reliability based trust? Yes, but.

Yes, there are lots of couples and teams that work adequately well because the members trust each other’s competence and professionalism to do good work and meet their commitments. They can rely on each other doing a good job of what they are tasked to do.

The ‘but’ is that we will operate far more cohesively and synergistically if we get to rely on deeper levels of trust.  Why?

Because relationship and team health and performance is more than just relying on each person to perform in their own role. Real team performance relies on us getting the benefit of working closely together, getting the best from each other and minimising the weaknesses.

To do this, we need to be able to speak more openly without fear that our team mates will judge our emotions or comments and use these against us in some way.  Working closely requires us to be up front about our strengths, weaknesses, flaws, feelings and be able to speak our zaniest ideas freely. When we are able to open up and be authentic in this way, we build understanding how we can help and support each other, work through difficult problems, make tough decisions and agree who is best to do what.

Tackling team trust

There are a number of strategies that help people get to know each other better and identify and work more to each other’s strengths. We encourage teams to learn how to ask for and give each other feed-forward; that is suggestions to increase their contribution to the team.

Our favourite approach is to get the entire team to commit to working on its relationships one on one. That is, each pair of team members agrees to building stronger and closer relationships over time. Once the team agrees this is important and that they will all work on it, they need to decide how they will implement this as a practice.

One team we are working with has agreed to have each pair schedule time to assess each relationship together and discuss openly how to make it stronger. Their agreed approach was to have a ‘walk and talk’ based around their monthly strategy meetings.  This means they will take 20 minutes to have a casual yet personal constructive conversation, usually by taking a stroll in the outdoors (weather permitting). Here is essentially what they do:

1. Share how each perceives the current state of their relationship by rating it 1-5 on the trust scale. (1 is not good, 5 is exceptionally trusting) We recommend not having to explain your rating because this may head down a path of bringing up lots of past issues or actions that are likely to elicit a threatened response in the other person).

2. Discuss and focus on what they could do together to strengthen the relationship. This might include spending more informal time together to get to know each other better, or doing specific work assignments together. It could mean scheduling regular ongoing one on one meetings.

3. Discuss what each person can do independently to ‘strengthen us’. This could be in response to asking the other person what they think would help.

4. Agree what we are each and together committing to and how we will check-in to reinforce progress.

What do you think and what have you seen?

We believe that trust is a crucial component of all great relationships and that great teams are made up of great relationships.

We’d love to hear of the approaches you have seen that are effective in building stronger relationships and stronger teams. What works for you?

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