Trust is an enigma. It is one of those words that comes with a lifetime of baggage. We know when we have it and we know when we don’t. It is the elusive and invisible thread that binds us together. But, when asked what Trust is, people often struggle with an actual definition. Instead, they prefer to share instances from their own experience. Trust is personal.
Just as people see the world through their own lens of Strength, they too learn to define Trust through this same lens. We naturally seek in others what we understand and value in ourselves. We constantly collect moments, actions, examples and interactions with one another. Only when we have enough evidence, can we cross the relational threshold and commit.
Trust is complex.
In some cases, Trust comes easily. In others, the intangible thread that binds is delicate or even defective from the start. So how do we create an environment where Trust is implicit?
First, we have to be explicit about what Trust means to each of us.
So What is Trust?
As the final core concept of our Professional Team Engagement Model, Trust is vital to any team that wants to operate out of their Strengths. Trust is about knowing that team members are who they say they are and do what they say they will do. Consistency and predictability are hallmarks of any trusting relationship. When individuals make a deliberate, ongoing effort to understand each other, the team becomes more robust and resilient. Teams with a high degree of trust can confidently and courageously maneuver around the obstacles that exist.
When we truly know and trust someone, we learn to rely on their Strengths….not just to measure them against our own.
So, with Strengths in mind, think of your own team and ask yourself these questions:
- What do we value in each other?
- What do we need from each other?
- Do we have trust?
- Do we prioritize relational connections?
- Have we created a trusting team environment that can handle conflict, change and accountability?
The Absence of Trust
Teams with a lack of trust are unmistakable. Often, many of the issues that emerge fall into these categories:
‘Going Rogue’- Team members who feign commitment, but go ‘rogue’ despite an agreed upon action plan, impact relational accountability.
Team Tension- Tension between team members that is under the surface at all times, leads to unspoken or unresolved issues.
Splinter Cells- Fractured portions of the team that follow their own agenda and form alliances, create instability and imbalance.
Special Behavior- When the behavior of a team member requires unique management or exception, it detracts from productivity. (Ex: negative attitude, lack of contribution, poor performance, continual self-advocacy, communication style.)
Trust in Action
At a recent Leadership Development session, we asked participants to use our Team Engagement Model and identify their most critical issues. Over half of our 50 leaders stated that Trust was their biggest concern and that they did not feel equipped to deal with its complexity. They felt confident in dealing with the ‘nuts and bolts’ and managing their teams, but they were much less confident in handling the human dynamics and leading their teams.
As consultants, we knew that the expertise for solving these issues existed in the collective experience and the Strengths of the leaders at the table. However, most were unsure of how to untangle the messes that they had either inherited or unintentionally created. They had a deep desire to create an environment of Trust, but they were focused on the wrong things. They wanted answers for what to DO. Instead, we challenged them to first think about how to BE.
So we asked them these two questions:
- What is trust?
- What does trust look like on a team?
Their responses were deeply personal, meaningful, and relevant. In between the anecdotes and nuances, there were resounding similarities. They realized that to create an environment of Trust on the team, they first had to create a common expectation for how to BE a member of the team.
- BE honest
- BE respectful
- BE convicted
- BE vulnerable
- BE compassionate
- BE supportive
- BE courageous
- BE generous
- BE patient
- BE grateful
- BE willing
- BE open
BEgin Anywhere. Just BEgin
This allowance for raw, personal reflection created an unprecedented opportunity for these leaders to find support and connection with each other. They had been struggling silently with similar issues and yet their conversations were not tired, negative or cynical. Instead, this dialogue stimulated renewed optimism and ideas for action.
Examples of Trust
One new leader identified with the need to BE courageous. For too long, she had tolerated the corrosive behavior of a team member because she was afraid of his influence and power on the team. But upon reflection, she realized that the unintended consequence of ignoring his conduct was that the rest of the team could not Trust her leadership. She left our session with a plan to hold this colleague accountable for his actions.
Another veteran leader resonated with the idea that it is necessary, at times, to BE vulnerable. Through control, he had created dependence. Team members looked to him to make every decision, complete every task and cover all the details. What he realized was that he was actually creating a one-way flow of expectation, not reciprocal Trust. By doing everything for his team, he had inadvertently rendered them helpless. He left our session with ideas for how he could begin to give away some of the control and create healthy inter-dependence.
As a leader, it is never too late to create an environment of Trust on a team. Whether the wounds of mistrust are still gaping, or have never fully been healed, it is up to you to prioritize the ongoing, intentional development of relational connections. Because without BEing, there is no real value in DOing.
Do any of these issues resonate with you? Would you say that your team has alignment around Trust, or do you have some work to do? How do you BEgin to create an environment of trust and mutual accountability?