Thursday, June 9, 2016

Team Building Starts with Trust

Recently, I wrote on this blog about creative team building events and how a Spartan Race fulfilled our team building goals for 2015. In response to that article, a couple of questions popped up that sounded similar to:

“We’re not really the Spartan Race kind of company.  Do you have additional thoughts for how we can build/strengthen our team?”

As I have for many years now, I’ll start the conversation of team building at the bottom of Patrick Lencioni’s pyramid for highly functional teams – Trust.  Like many other authors and leaders have suggested, trust is the first, and most critical foundational piece for building strong teams.

But saying trust is important for your company is a bit like saying a foundation is important to building a house. It’s likely one of the first elements you thought of. But why is it the most important element? How can you assess your teams’ trust level, and what actionable steps can you take to build trust across your teams?

Trust IS the Foundation

I’m a big fan of Patrick Lencioni and, especially, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ which is widely considered one of the best books (Amazon Top 10 for Leadership Books) on team-building.  It was one of the first books I read as a new manager and has significantly shaped how I view, talk about, and try to build teams.

In the book, Patrick describes the 5 dysfunctions of a team and uses a pyramid to show the levels:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results

Alter the pyramid to show the 5 critical components of a highly functional team, and Trust is at the bottom: the most important piece.  For Patrick—and for me— a lack of trust prevents a team from true commitment, accountability, and results.

Along with the ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, there are other great books that are specifically about trust or discuss trust and its importance:

Trust Works! By Ken Blanchard: High trust = lasting relationships
The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey: High trust = high-performance
The Trust Edge by David Horsager: High trust = foundation for genuine success
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek: High trust = Circle of Safety
All of them point to trust as a critical and fundamental piece to success – in business and in life.

Piggy-backing all these thoughts and making it personal to myself, trust enables me to be more.  It enables me to:

  1. Accomplish more and do better work by getting feedback and synergizing
  2. Grow and learn more by allowing myself to be “open” and receive information
  3. Teach more and serve by letting me focus my attention on others
  4. Care more and empathize because I’m not constantly worried about protecting myself
  5. Be more human

Trust helps you accept deepening relationships and removes politics and silos from the work place, creating an organization within which people feel safe. At its simplest, trust is a catalyst for your organization to be more: more nimble, more efficient, more effective.  It’s like oxygen for a successful team – one simply can’t exist without it.

As strange as it sounds though, it’s important that it is the right type of trust.

What Type of Trust is Needed?

There are two types of trust that are (possibly) present with teams: “common” trust and vulnerability-based trust.

“Common” Trust: the confidence / belief that a co-worker or team member won’t break generally accepted laws, norms, policies, etc.  It’s the trust that you extend to others that they won’t steal the computers if left in the office alone or deliberately corrupt the DB.

It’s the type of trust that we extend to each other when driving.  We “trust” people know the rules of the road, will stay on the right side, and stop at red lights.

Without “common” trust, it would be very difficult to operate as a company (or society).  Belonging to the team typically grants you this type of trust.

Vulnerability-Based Trust: a much deeper confidence that you can be vulnerable with teammates. The belief that you can do things like take risks, ask for help, admit mistakes, or confront and hold others accountable without fear of retaliation, humiliation, or resentment.

This type of trust has to be earned and given.

Strong, high-performing teams base their entire foundation on vulnerability-based trust.  “Common” trust simply isn’t enough.

So, how do you build vulnerability-based trust?

How to Build Trust

Authors and leadership experts offer many great ways to build vulnerability-based trust.  Some of my favorites include:

“Go First”: As a leader, it is your job to model the behavior.  Be the first to “open up” and extend trust to others.  As Ken Blanchard says, “When you open up and share about yourself, you demonstrate a vulnerability that engenders trust.”

“Seek first  to understand, then to be understood”: From another of my favorite books, ”The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’”, this encourages you to listen with the intent to understand rather than with the intent to reply.  It’s not a competition; you have to be willing to stop thinking about winning and open up to considering someone else’s idea.

Create a “Circle of Safety”:  You do this by first, treating your people like people.  Give them a sense of belonging, a shared purpose, some autonomy, and care for them.  People must feel cared for and safe to trust.

Try any (or all) of the “13 Behaviors of High Trust” from ‘Speed of Trust’:  Behaviors like, Talk Straight, Right Wrongs, and Keep Commitments.  All of these behaviors help build and strengthen trust.

Pick up the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide” and try any of the exercises inside.
Patrick offers a couple of them online for free: Personal Histories Exercise and Team Effectiveness Exercise

Share an experience together: (As you know, I recommend a Spartan Race.) Any time you actually get to practice being a successful team, you re-enforce the trust and strengthen the foundation.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to understand that building trust is not a destination.  It’s ongoing, and you’re either building it up or tearing it down.

Published  by  in Knocking Down Doors

About the Author


Author & Editor

Based in Malaysia, Best Events specializes in Conferences, Seminars, Murder Mystery Dinners, Gala Dinners and Team Building events.


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