Trust matters

Trust matters. We know it is one of the key indicators of whether a team (or any relationship for that matter) will perform well. So, what is it and why does it matter?

Trust matters. Why and how to build it.

Patrick Lencioni writes about this in his book – the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He suggests that the absence of trust is one of the key indicators for a poor or dysfunctional team. In fact, without trust, it makes it almost impossible for a team to effectively operate.

Absence of trust

Lencioni defines an absence of trust as:

This stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

You would think that this stuff is pretty self evident. But the number of teams I have worked with over the years, who have an absence of trust is significant.

In one particular team, the members had worked together for years- and yet knew literally nothing about their fellow team members. Basic stuff like- did they have kids, where did they live, what was their background before working in the team.

You might ask why this stuff matters. And isn’t there a divide between personal and work life – so someone’s personal life is no-one’s business. This was certainly the initial view of one team member that we have been working with recently. And yet, over a period of time, with some simple trust exercises, he, the most cynical yet, acknowledged that trust and vulnerability built something intangible that had very real, and very tangible positive outcomes in the workplace.

Where to start?

Lencioni has an inexpensive tool you can use to take a measure of the trust in your team. Or you can start with some simple trust exercises. This is one that Lencioni recommends:

Each team member shares the following information:

  • How many siblings do they have?
  • Where did they grow up?
  • Any unique challenges when they were growing up?
  • What are their favourite hobbies?
  • Best job?
  • Worst job?

It takes very little time, and you can amend the questions as need be. The idea being – they are low risk but give you an insight into the person and their life.

Why does trust matter?

As soon as you start seeing a team member as a human being – you start seeing them in a different light, particularly if the relationship has been a bit fraught to date. You can build connections -“oh you grew up in the country – I did too.” You can see them for more than simply someone with whom you transact each day.  This process also builds the foundations of being vulnerable.. And there’s SO much evidence around how vulnerability is a good thing – in teams, in leadership, the list goes on..

Once you’re open to being vulnerable with someone else, you can accept when you’ve made a mistake. You’re also more open to someone else pointing out if you’ve made a mistake – if there’s already a foundation of trust.

Other ideas to help build trust

Other ideas include the more obvious ones of spending time together outside of the workplace – even if that’s only for a coffee. Give this a bit of thought though. Friday night drinks don’t work for everyone – some people are wanting to get back to families, others don’t drink. Equally – breakfast sessions sound good in theory- but are hard for some people to get to.

One client of mine has recently taken to giving blood together through the Red Cross Red25 Group Donation programme.

Another client has done some thinking styles profiling – using either the HBDI tool or the Click Colours tool. It’s another way of opening up about the way you think – and starting the conversation about who you are.


  • If you suspect that trust is an issue in your team, think about doing a survey to give you some data. Lencioni’s is a great way to start, but there are different versions of this.
  • Try some of the ideas above.
  • Read Lencioni’s book or Stephen Covey’s wonderful book- the Speed of Trust.


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