Teams and Trust


I’ve met with the executive teams of two CEOs in the past two weeks – CEOs being intentional about enhancing their teams’ effectiveness. Excellent teams don’t form by chance.
It may be time to evaluate your leadership team. Challenging times call for a gut-check on who’s in the foxhole with us. What grade would you give your team?
If you give them an “A” or better – what would you identify as the #1 ingredient? Conversely, if it’s “C” or lower, what would be the #1 cause? How many of us are tolerating ‘average?’
Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team identifies TRUST as the foundational layer to healthy teams. Lencioni is specific in his definition of trust. His emphasis is on “vulnerability trust” – the ability to show a weakness without losing esteem, strength or power. Like being able to say, “I don’t know.”
Such trust doesn’t just happen. Okay, it might, over many years of people partnering together. But most teams I know need to be effective today. They need this underpinning of trust as soon as they can get it.
The Leader must personally embody and promote trust in a team.
We all know the dysfunction created by mistrust. But, practically speaking, what builds trust? And what breaks it down?
Here are 3 ingredients that undermine trust in a team:

  1. Self Protection. We all are naturally disposed to protect ourselves. We bring this ingrained individualism to a team and are reluctant to put our fate in the hands of others. We hold back.
  2. Secrets. Corporate confidentiality has its place. But too often secrets are used for personal reasons – power-plays, insecurity – rather than corporate ones.
  3. Dodging Responsibility. We don’t “own our stuff.” We don’t keep our commitments, and don’t acknowledge our mistakes.

And 3 contributors to trust:

  1. Knowing. We are wary of people we do not know. A team-building Leader engenders teammates knowing one another as people, not just title-holders.
  2. Safety. There is risk in trusting. A Leader must provide safety for team members to speak and be heard.
  3. Sharing. Providing information to others, rather than hoarding it, demonstrates trust in how team members will handle it.

Most importantly, before a team can manifest trust, its Leader must trust. Notice the Leader’s personal accountability in this statement by Lencioni:

“. . . trust is predicated on the simple – and practical – idea that people who aren’t afraid to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in the kind of political behavior that wastes everyone’s time and energy.”

So, Leader, do the gut-check on yourself.
Do you trust your teammates? Are you trust-worthy? If not, do you really have a team?