Relationships don’t work without trust.  You have a relationship with every single person you know to some extent or another.  To co-exist in a society where every person is able to contribute and fulfill the role to which they have been assigned we have relationships with each other. In a business, the relationships we cultivate either promote or hinder the overarching aims of the organisation. If you think trust isn’t something that you need to be working on you’re wrong. 

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

I do a lot of work with teams helping them become more effective. Many years ago it was very “en vogue” to use psychometric tests to understand communication preferences, strengths and weaknesses. We have all been in ‘that’ team development off-site event where we get ‘labelled’ with a series of letters or a colour. It’s all very exciting to receive your report and “ooh” and “aah” about how spookily accurate it is. (Which always astounds me because they filled it in so of course it’s going to be familiar!?).

I am not saying that this work doesn’t have its place. It does have benefits. It can provide a universal language to break through some patterns of dysfunction by raising awareness in the first instance.  These days my ‘go to’ model is Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. If you aren’t familiar with it then check it out. 

“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”

There are 5 layers that are interconnected and the first layer and foundation of any high performing team is trust. No surprises there then.

Absence of trust

The five dysfunctions of a team are represented by a five-sectioned pyramid. At the bottom of the triangle is “absence of trust”. Absence of trust is the foundation of all dysfunctions. The root of which is the inability and unwillingness of employees to be vulnerable and open to each other. Teams who share personal insights and experiences always show better results.

Brené Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” The unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen our control. Brown debunks myths about vulnerability, the most popular being that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Brown says that “when we think of times that we have felt vulnerable or emotionally exposed, we are actually recalling times of great courage”.  

In this context, vulnerability doesn’t mean telling your colleagues all your deepest, darkest, most personal secrets. It is about having connecting conversations and being prepared to be vulnerable. 

Fear of conflict

Next in the triangle is “fear of conflict”. Conflict is not necessarily always bad and can actually be extremely beneficial. Be brave enough to disagree.

The other layers in the triangle are lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.  All the layers are interconnected and rely on each other to form a high functioning team.  Take any one element away and it’s like a table with one short leg.  

The difference between trust and rapport

I often work with teams that are horrified that I would even suggest there could be an issue with trust in the organisation. “Oh, but we have a right laugh on the Christmas do” is the definition of what trust is not. Getting on with your colleagues does not mean there is trust. Lencioni calls this “artificial harmony” e.g. when things appear to be friendly on the surface and there is no overt hostility or conflict but there is an issue with accountability. This layer of the model is one you can always trace back to an absence of vulnerability-based trust. Trust in this context can be created by being vulnerable and connecting on a deeper level.

Trust comes from environments where people feel able to be honest without worrying about any backlash. This happens when we have conversations that don’t always leave us feeling comfortable.  It is about having connecting conversations and being prepared to be vulnerable.  When the trust is built team members are able to:

  • Apologise
  • Take ownership of their mistakes
  • Admit if they don’t know something 
  • Commit to change 

“Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

If teams can trust each other and master the art of disagreement then they are more likely to be able to commit to an agreed plan of action, hold themselves and other accountable for following through on the plan, and focus on the collective results.  

Building trust within teams

This kind of trust isn’t built on team raft building days or strategy days that look at business processes. Team bonding isn’t the same as team effectiveness. Yes, they have their place but let’s not confuse the two. This kind of trust is built from having meaningful, sometimes difficult, conversations that are focused on the effectiveness of the team. Conversations that uncover hidden team dynamics and link back to business results. 

The kind of trust you want within your organisation is not built by allocating roles to see which team can tie 6 empty water butts together the fastest to float ungraciously across a freezing cold lake.    

The kind of trust that moves businesses closer to their goals, requires careful facilitation. Facilitation that creates a safe space for people to deepen their level of self awareness and share their own process for their development and that of the team.

Come to me if you think you’re ready to take your team on this journey! There won’t be a cringey team challenge in sight but you may be required to get honest with yourself and your team. 

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