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Even when you trust your team, they may not trust you

The four trust factors critical to your company

One of my clients is known for their supportive and nurturing culture.  No one is held accountable for their hours in the office.  Everyone is trusted to do what is necessary to get his or her job done.  Compensation is above the industry average.   Many employees, even administrative staff, are given equity allocations.  When someone on the team suffers some difficulty or problem, whether personal or professional, management rallies to support them and their family in a multitude of ways.


You can imagine my surprise when a number of young leaders in this Firm viewed me with suspicion.  They wondered if I was a spy, sent by the senior leaders to gather information and report back to them.  I was amazed at the gap in trust.  How could a culture so loving and caring not have created more trust among their people?


Patrick Lencioni joins many other voices in pointing out that trust is fundamental to healthy team function.  Since so much activity in business is conducted through teams, the issue of trust is critical to understand.  But, trust is not a simple concept.  There are a least four aspects to trust and every one of them is critical to a high performing team.


The four aspects of trust critical to a high-performance team:

1. Truthfulness.  How much do you trust the people with whom you work to tell you the whole, unvarnished truth?  In reality, there are few, in any, people in our lives who tell us the whole truth.  Your spouse might hold back so as not to hurt your feelings.  Others might be afraid of making you angry or getting on your wrong side.  On the other end of the continuum are those people who seem to never tell you the truth.  All of their interactions cause you to be suspect; as if they are trying to sell you a used car.  Trust goes up in cultures where people tell the truth, even when it is difficult.


2. Fairness.  Do people on your team have your back?  Even if people are speaking truth, if your teammates are only looking out for their self-interest, you aren’t going to have a high degree of trust in them.  Some people are wired to create win/lose relationships.  They are clearly out for themselves and will do whatever is necessary to get ahead.  Others are wired to create lose/win relationships.  They are so focused on the success of others that they overlook their needs.  I have found that the most trusting relationships are built by people who can blend their interest with the interest of their teammates; thus creating true win/win relationships.


3. Competence.  Can the people on your team do what they say they can do?  One of the most important functions of great leadership is to staff the team with “A” players.  When you don’t trust the people on your team to be able to execute on their assignments, you will spend too much of your team backstopping them.  Trust erodes when you have to check the work of your teammates because you don’t trust they have the competence to do the job right.


4. Reliability.  Do the people on your team do what they say they will do?  People commit to doing all kinds of things.  You may do that as well. Check your “to do” list.  How many items on that list have been sitting in that file for weeks? Months?  Years?  Many of these tasks may have been commitments you made to someone on your team.  Doesn’t your lack of follow-though undermine their trust in you?  We don’t always realize that making agreements is giving our word.  When our word isn’t reliable, trust diminishes.


What to do when trust is absent and dark clouds appear

My client had a great culture…in some ways and not so much in others.  People were competent and they were reliable.  But, there wasn’t much trust in fairness.  The company had been doing extremely well.  Some of the leadership team is truly getting rich.  The younger leaders aren’t feeling that things are fair.  Trust is diminishing.  Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon.


Trust Assessment.  One of the tools I have found quite valuable is my Trust Assessment.  This tool invites the team to confidentially rate each other on each of the critical trust factors.  Each team member gets feedback on how he or she is trusted by the team.  This tool has paved the way for some powerfully healing conversations that gets the team on the right track again.


About Jack Skeen

Jack Skeen
Jack Skeen, founder of Skeen Leadership, has been coaching bright and successful leaders for close to two decades, spending thousands of hours addressing every imaginable leadership, business and life issue with wisdom and professionalism.

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