3 Ways To Demonstrate Trust On Your Team

One of the most influential books in my personal leadership development is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It is profound in its simplicity.

In this post, I’m interested in addressing the first dysfunction Lencioni identifies – the absence of trust. Trust lies at the foundation of every successful team. It is the first thing that must be developed and maintained amongst teammates. Successful teams are built on trust and trust must permeate all phases of the team’s efforts. It might be cliche’ but the “T” in TEAM really does stand for TRUST.

Wouldn’t you agree? I have been in a number of situations where we wore the same uniform, but we were worlds apart when it came to trusting each other.

Prior to the Miami Heat’s Game 5 victory and winning the 2012 NBA Championship, Lebron James talked about his role as the leader of the team:

“When I go out on the floor, I do want to dominate the guy in front of me, but this is a team game, and I have all the trust in my teammates, and I try to do everything that needs to be done individually to help our team win.” (AP Report)

I believe the Heat don’t win the championship this year without trusting each other (this means players, coaches, front office, etc). How many of you remember the early exit last year in the NBA playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers? They had the talent. They had the desire. They simply didn’t have the trust. When Andrew Bynum took to the microphone after they were knocked out, he held nothing back…

“Obviously we have trust issues, and unless we come out and discuss them, nothing is going to change,” he said only moments into his postgame interview. “It’s quite obvious to anybody watching the game. Hesitation on passes. Defensively not being there for your teammate, because he wasn’t there for you before. Stuff like that, those things.” (ESPN LA)

Trust is crucial no matter what type of team you are leading. It could be a club, a council, a corporation, a church, or a championship NBA team. Your team will never achieve it’s fullest potential until it establishes a culture of trust among those involved.

I don’t think it’s enough to simply say you trust your team. I think it takes each person looking into the eyes of every person standing in the huddle and knowing I trust you. Trust is an organizational value that requires individual contribution from everyone. Every person on the team has the ability to either increase or decrease the level of trust for the team as a whole.  It takes an individual effort to prove and show how you trust each and every one of your teammates and to do the things necessary to earn and keep their trust.

With that in mind, here are three practical ways team members can build trust with each other.

1. Go first.

You can set the example for others by being the first to trust. I talk about the power of the words I Trust You in another post. It takes courage and vulnerability to trust someone else. That’s the essence and power of trust. You can accomplish so much more with it. Yet you can’t be certain how things are going to turn out. Much like faith, trust creates dependence on the other person.

Going first is about leadership. You gain influence as you provide an example worth following. You demonstrate your own sense of responsibility when you step into the circle of trust before anyone else does. Think of it this way, if I asked the people on your team who is most trusting person on the team, would your name be mentioned? If not, why not?

2. Be worth trusting.

Trust is a risk. If the people on your team are going to go out on a limb for you, they have to decide whether it’s worth the risk. Every word, action, and behavior you offer (especially in times of difficulty) will help or hinder another person’s decision about whether or not you are worth the risk of trusting. I believe each team member has to honestly look inside him or herself and ask: Am I worth trusting?

Know that being worth the trust of someone else takes time. It takes consistency. It comes about as you slowly tip the scales in favor of reliance instead of risk. Trust must be earned. If you lose it, it will take more time to earn it back.

3. Take responsibility for the consequences of your choices.

This is the most practical way for you and I to build trust with our teammates. For me, one of the hallmarks of successful leadership centers around the issue of responsibility. If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to take responsibility – first for yourself, then, for a problem. I’ve seen this prove itself over and over. A leader will take responsibility at the front end of a project or cause. But when something goes wrong, he or she won’t take responsibility for the consequences. You and I will prove that we are worthy of trust when we own the consequences, as well as the choices that led to those consequences.

Take another look at the two quotes above by James and Bynum. This time, look at the pronouns. James talks about “I,” Bynum talks about “we.” There’s a difference. Taking responsibility is being willing to talk about “I” for the benefit of “we.” Lots of leaders get that backwards. They’ll talk about “we” for the benefit of “I.”

Lencioni writes about the power of responsibility as it relates to trust: “What exactly does vulnerability-based trust look like in practice? It is evident among team members who say things to one another like “I screwed up,” “I was wrong,” “I need help,” “I’m sorry,” and “You’re better than I am at this.” Most important, they only make one of these statements when they mean it, and especially when they really don’t want to.”

Think about it: How can you become more worthy of trust among your team members today?


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