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Trust within a team is like salt for food - it makes everything better

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The popular saying is that the only thing guaranteed in life is death and taxes. Well, I want you to add another item to that list:

Lack of trust within a team is a hidden tax that prevents it from being a high performing one ➡ guaranteed.

Stay with me, and I will explain, but first, I want to explain why the lead picture is salt and what salt has to do with leadership and trust.

Leadership behaviours

Excellence in just about anything on the planet has a set of foundational routines. Therefore is it any surprise that excellent leadership also has a set of behaviours and patterns associated with it that differentiate the best leaders from the crowd. Leadership is about behaviours and actions - not an innate ability. You aren't born a great leader. It comes from learning and implementing skills.

What the best leaders do is make situations and people better. Leadership is the small things that you do that make a difference, influence others and make life at work better.

The most impactful leadership behaviours are timeless. So what is the foundational behaviour, that like salt with food, makes things consistently better? Well, the seasoning of choice for leadership per Zenger Folkman is trust. Their research looked at the combinations of various leadership behaviours. They highlight one behaviour that brings a dramatic improvement when combined with virtually every other leadership behaviour. They state that:

"We conclude that trust changes the way people respond to a leader. It identifies and validates the leader's motivation. Trust assures others about whether the leader is acting out of self-interest or the interests of the organisation. It convinces colleagues that they are not being hoodwinked or taken advantage of. "

So just like salt changes and enhances the flavour of most foods - not by adding a new taste of its own, but by changing the structure of food to bring out the flavour that might otherwise be hidden - trust works in the same way to enhance most other leadership behaviours.

What does this mean for you and your team?

Communicating when there is no trust

Almost all the work you will do is done through relationships with people within your organisation or outside, whether your team, your boss, your peers, project teams, clients or service providers. And trying to communicate where there is little trust is incredibly difficult, and at times impossible. It can be like walking through a minefield. Even if the communication is clear and explicit, people will always look for hidden meanings and hidden personal agendas if there is no trust. A lack of trust is a sign of poor relationships and dysfunctional teams. As Stephen Covey says in "The 8th Habit":

Low trust is the great hidden tax.

Photo by Olga Delawrence on Unsplash

Low trust will delay projects, thereby increasing inefficiencies that lead to higher costs. Low trust will lead to or magnify conflict and reduce the opportunities that lead to successful win-win outcomes. And like it or not, negotiation is a fact of life. Everyone negotiates with someone every day. As we all experience on an almost daily basis, conflict is a growth industry. Everyone wants to participate in decisions that affect them; fewer and fewer people will accept decisions dictated by someone else.

On the other hand, communication, where there is high trust, is effortless. Communication within a team where there is high trust can be intuitive and occurs with little or no effort compared to low trust settings. Conflict is either absent, reduced or more easily resolved through respectful negotiation in a high trust environment.

Want to know the best part? It is possible to engender trust in those around you to help you become a more effective leader and produce better results for you, your team, and your organisation.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Seven steps to developing trust

Enduring trust cannot be faked, and it is rarely produced by a dramatic, one-time gesture or effort.

1 - Seek to understand each other better.

To be successful, organisations need to have teams that work together, where individuals align their interests and put aside differences to focus collectively on what's best for the organisation. At the heart of any healthy team lies the intensity of bonds between people and their collective goals, which has trust as its foundation. Help team members get to know each other better and start enhancing trust by using the personal histories exercise. It is a quick exercise where even established teams will learn something new about the team members, and therefore will come to understand each other better. Everyone in your team should answer five non-intrusive personal questions to do with their backgrounds:

  • Where did you grow up?

  • How many siblings?

  • What was one of your interesting childhood hobbies?

  • What was your biggest challenge growing up?

  • What was your first job?

You can find more questions to help your team learn more about each other here.

2 - Build an envelope of trust.

It is essential to create trust for a relationship to be successful. But what does trust mean? In the Trillion Dollar Coach (The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell), it is described as:

  • Trust means you keep your word.

  • Trust means loyalty.

  • Trust means integrity.

  • Trust means discretion.

Follow these four principles to build an envelope of trust with those that matter most.

3 - Don't forget the small things

With people, little things are often the big things. Do not underestimate the impact of being kind and courteous can have on those with whom you interact. Small courtesies and kindnesses when given consistently yield huge dividends and are remembered when things get tricky:

  • Please

  • Thank you

  • You are welcome

  • How may I help today?

4 - Aim for win-win outcomes

Win-lose thinking is the underlying assumption of almost all negotiations and problem-solving. It comes from a scarcity mindset which says that for the other person to win (get what they want), there will be less for me. This approach makes developing trust more challenging as both sides are focused on short-term goals. A different mindset is required to thrive, not just survive, in today's world of unprecedented change.

An infinite-game mindset means we should approach every new encounter as a means to educate ourselves. Education and continuous learning lead to improved possibility of win-win outcomes. The starting assumption should be that this isn't going to be a one-off interaction but rather the start of a longer-term relationship, where trust will grow and lead to mutually beneficial outcomes in the future.

5 - Clarify your expectations

Often an absence of trust comes from a lack of mutual understanding required to drive productive communication, mainly when it is about expectations about roles and goals. The underlying roots of communication breakdowns or toxic working relationships within teams, or even broken and sick cultures, is often ambiguous or misunderstood expectations about roles (what people are accountable and responsible for) and goals (the common priorities). How can there be a high degree of trust if we don't clarify our expectations and ensure all parties sing from the same hymn sheet?

6 - Proactively apologise

Ever wonder why we don't trust most politicians? Well, I posit that one of the reasons is they never say sorry. Or their apology is really a non-apology like this:

Instead, how about saying,

"I am sorry. We made a mistake and will likely continue to make mistakes as we face something we have never had to deal with before. We are trying and doing our best. We commit to learning from every mistake so that we can do a better job for you."

We will face difficult situations, make honest mistakes, react inappropriately to a colleague or just say something stupid in front of our teams. Learn to apologise. Apologising and seeking forgiveness takes courage and will engender respect and trust from those around you that you were willing to acknowledge your shortcomings.

7 - Give and receive feedback.

Consistently giving and asking for feedback will show people that you care about their development and that you respect and trust their opinions on how you might become better. Feedback really is the best way to improve your performance at almost anything, and that goes for engendering trust too.


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