We’re part of a team, but we don’t seem to trust each other

Posted in Leadership, Mentor Minute, Teams

We’re part of a team, but we don’t seem to trust each other

The Globe and Mail, Apr. 20 2012


I don’t think our team has a very good level of trust and I’m not sure what to do about it. Nobody seems to come clean or be really honest with each other, nobody really says what they’re thinking or brings up the real issues, and nobody seems to really commit or to be prepared to hold each other accountable. How do you recommend building a stronger team?


This is a big issue that I see at all levels of corporate culture. One book presents the ideas and issues so clearly and with such insight that I recommend it to all my clients: Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He uses an imaginary leadership team of a high-tech company to expose what can make teams highly dysfunctional, and presents ideas on how to move from dysfunctional to highly functional.

Another useful book is Steven M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust, which illustrates how having deep trust speeds up work, and that in turn brings down costs and also ensures we have more fun doing it. When employees lack trust, the work slows right down, the cost sky-rockets and the enjoyment factor plummets.

Think of trust as a currency and recognize that it is critical to the success of any organization. Too often, we find teams who, on the surface, may believe they have a decent level of trust, but deep down, it’s really not there. In a team that is dysfunctional, the trust is surface-level at best.

Deep trust should be the goal of every team. To reach it, people must be willing to be vulnerable with each other. I realize that “vulnerable” can be a scary word when we are talking about the work place. But real trust cannot exist without it. The team leader must create an environment where people know it’s okay to say “I made a mistake” or “I don’t know” or “I need help” and not be looked down upon or belittled, or made to feel small.

So how do you build that level of trust, and how long does it take? Many people assume that building trust must take a long time. This can be true, if no one is willing or able to let their guard down. But you can create an environment where the trust is built quickly – and it usually starts with leaders who are willing to ask for help, and admit they don’t know and fess up when they make a mistake.

Begin by asking the team out for lunch, or set aside a meeting, with the specific task of building more trust. Draw up a list of three questions that everyone can answer; the first two are simple and do not involve a sense of vulnerability, the third will require more personal revelations. Here’s an example:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • How many siblings do you have and where are you in the birth order?
  • What was a big challenge you faced as a child?

You will be amazed by how such simple questions can get people talking, and really getting to know each other. When people really know each other, it is easier to trust.

Consider building in these types of “get to know you better” sessions on a regular basis, until people feel comfortable talking about themselves and revealing something to their colleagues.

Another option is to conduct behavioural tests (such as DISC or Myers-Briggs) to help the team members not only understand themselves better, but also to understand their colleagues. This will require a bigger commitment such as hiring an expert to help you through the process, but the rewards your team will experience will be worth it.

Katie Bennett is a coach and speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.