“Trust” typically ranks at the top among key attributes of highly performing teams.
To help assess the level of trust within the team, I run an exercise that I call ‘trust continuum’ – I invite each team member to take turns standing in a place along a straight line represented by low trust on one end, and high trust on the other. The gap between the current level of trust and potential for creating trust becomes visible. When I ask what needs to happen to move further along on the trust continuum, the common response is “time” – to which I respond, ‘time will naturally occur; so, what has to happen during the time’?
And that is it. What specifically happens during the time determines the level of trust that will develop within the team and among its members.
We can wait for trust to develop. Trust may be unexpectedly inspired by a crisis or triggering event. Or we can accelerate the process by creating safety. Safety provides the opportunity to build trust with intention.
As a default, I will stay safe by protecting myself from you and the team by keeping things to myself, managing risk so that I am comfortable with what I say and do. And as each of us on the team sets and maintains boundaries, it will take a long time for us to co-create trust. However, when we can get comfortable becoming uncomfortable, we will speed up the process.
So we introduce disruptive processes to stir up the group into sharing personal, even intimate, experiences and stories of their lives. While not directly relevant to a specific business challenge or opportunity, the real-story-telling shines a light on the humanity within each team member. Rather than seeing each other as a role player who performs a function, we start to view each other as the person who happens to fill a role. Humanity enters the scene and informs us of the the whole person. And as I relate to you as a person, it is safer for me to drop my guard and become comfortable letting you in to my real story in the moment. Taking time to deliberately get to know each other, connect and engage at a deeper level will create a container of safety.
In a safe container, it is easier to be vulnerable with each other on commercial issues, to show our individual weakness so that we ask for help when really needed and are helpful rather than competitive or suspicious. Safety is the predicate for trust to blossom within the team and among each of its members. When it feels safe, team members are more likely to open up about the good, the bad and the ugly – whether it relates to a pure business issue or about an individual block. Trust invites the hidden power within the team to unfold. Trust gives permission to team members to show up with all of their power, and ultimately the power becomes generative within the team.
Take time to create safety as a building block for trust to develop.