Developing Team Trust

One of the key elements of any group of people working together is trust.  Trust is one of those words that is loaded with meaning; what I call a "big word.".  I would like to discuss the meaning of trust and how we can develop and maintain trust. 

The way I understand trust in relationship to a team is the relationship between the team members and their ability to become interdependent.  However this is a very complex and multifaceted subject.  In order to be able to address the issue, some oversimplification is necessary.

Some of the key ingredients of team trust are:

  • Mutual understanding
  • Commons goals
  • Dependence on each other to achieve the goal
  • Making and meeting commitments to the team
  • Willingness to be open
  • Group is important to the members

The interdependence of the team creates a vulnerability of the members to the success of the other members of the team and their ability to meet their commitments.   Therefore each member must relinquish some control of one's destiny to the group. 

So how does one develop team trust?  I do not think there is a simple formula but some things I have done in the past have helped in developing trust among team members. 

I think number one priority is getting to know each other outside of the context of the environment the team finds itself.  The members need to know each person as a complete person, their background, personal situation, strengths and weaknesses.  There are some tools that people use to do this but I find the best approach is to have people share the items listed above.  I do not do this quickly and all at once.  We need to go around the table several times to really create an understanding of the real person.  Once the person becomes more than his role to the team, the team starts to form some trust.  I expect the key is the person is willing to share something of himself to the team and thus demonstrates some trust in the team.   The leader of the team is a key person in this activity in order to demonstrate trust in the team.  

One thing I find is that this activity takes a significant amount of time and many members of the team get very concerned at the amount of time being "wasted."  Any time the issue of time comes up, I assure the group that if we can develop trust in each other we can save a lot of time in getting things done.  Without trust, everything takes longer and often fails.  The risk is particularly high when the goal of the team is very challenging.

I have found that in addition to that initial getting to know each other, this activity needs to continue throughout the project so that people share their successes and challenges with the group.  Trust is such a tenuous thing and must be continually worked on in the team.

When a new member joins the team, the same exercise needs to take place to be able to integrate the new person.  The complete process does not take quite as long but still requires more attention than we all want to give it.

One of things that is quite amazing to see as a team starts to trust each other is the time they spend interacting and helping each other.   The process removes barriers and people are willing to tackle tough issues in a constructive environment.  One characteristic that is really neat is individuals become much more tolerant of other member's shortcoming.  The building of confidence among the team is very tangible.

In this blog I have shared the key ingredients of team trust and some techniques I have found that have helped develop trust.  I encourage all team leaders to take the time to build team trust.

I welcome people's comments and experiences in being members of various teams. 


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