Building Team Trust - Improve Team Performance

Trust. The catch-all for what’s wrong with a team.  But trust means different things to different people. And based on our experience, personality, and patience, our interest in talking about trust and delving deep into how we feel about it, how our team feels about it, and how individuals perceive it…well…let’s just say…not everyone is keen to talk about trust in depth. It is way too conceptual.

Here’s the thing: If you want people to be engaged, committed, and accountable for producing results in your organization, trust is the foundation.  Trust and communication are inextricably linked. Both are frequently at the root of employee engagement opportunities as well.

Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Behaviors of Dysfunctional Team, makes a distinction between two kinds of trust – predictive trust and vulnerability-based trust.  Both are important in team development. Vulnerability-based trust is more impactful to deep, strong working relationships. Here’s why:

Predictive trust is about what behaviors, reactions, opinions, etc. we expect from each other.  My teammates have high predictive trust, for example, that I will ask to collaborate when we’re working on something new. (A positive thing for our team) Conversely, although I don’t like to admit it, there’s also fairly high predictive trust that I will take more time than most to tweak and finalize a presentation. So, gentle nudging about internal deadlines is appreciated to keep us delivering on schedule and as harmoniously as possible.

Vulnerability-based trust is deeper. It’s about looking behind the curtain into who we really are as people. Knowing each other more deeply than just superficial conversations about the weather and project timelines.  Using the example above, the team knows enough about me to understand where that behavior comes from. It’s a mix of my personality style, learned quality focus from my time at the Disney University, and underlying values. The team knows I want to deliver the best to the client and represent the team – and myself – as best as possible.  This leads to easier working relationships, more effective conflict resolution, increased commitment, consistent accountability, and positive results for the business.

How can you build vulnerability-based trust? An easy first step is thoughtful icebreakers. When I work with teams using The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team tools, I use a simple yet impactful icebreaker to get people to open up. I ask participants to share something significant about their childhood that gives some insight into who they are beyond that “work persona.” As the facilitator, I start the sharing to set the tone – and walk the talk. It’s an amazing, powerful exercise.  Need other ideas? Ask the team to lead the icebreakers.  Not sure that will work? Feel free to reach out for some ideas and best practices.  I love this stuff!

Josh Neimark