Essentials of Team Performance: Trust

(This is the first in a series of five articles about building high-performance teams.)

Any leader who wants to create a high-performance team must begin with trust. Trust is the foundational behavior which enables the other four “cohesive” team behaviors — engaging in healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and collective results. Without trust, teams are simply unable to work productively. 

This may seem obvious, yet trust is often overlooked by executives and leaders as they assemble their teams. What’s more, it is a particular type of trust that is needed to build a cohesive team.

Predictive vs. Vulnerability-Based Trust

When most people think about trust, they are actually thinking about “predictive” trust.

  • “If I do or say this, I generally know what the other person will say or do in response.”
  • “If Steven says something in a certain way, I know what he really means.”
  • “If Jennifer says she’ll have the draft written by Thursday, I have a high degree of confidence that she’ll do exactly as she promises.”

It is a trust based on the ability to predict behavior in another.

Teams need what Patrick Lencioni refers to as “vulnerability-based” trust. It is called vulnerability-based trust because it calls for everyone on the team to be open and honest with each other — to make themselves genuinely vulnerable to each other. When everyone on the team is open to each other in this way, the team creates a safe environment to:

  • Say that you don’t know the answer to a question
  • Admit that you made a mistake
  • Talk about why you think one person’s idea is stronger than another’s
  • Ask for help — “I’m not very good at this piece; can you show me how to do it?”
  • Apologize for saying something that was unfair
  • Offer sincere feedback

Trust Allows for Real, Ongoing Feedback

Feedback is an essential raw material for teams. People often hear “feedback” and immediately think the worst, “Someone wants to tell me something negative.” Feedback, positive as well as negative, should be an ongoing, small-scale, continuous back-and-forth: not an occasional meeting that focuses on the negative. High-performance teams feed off this type of robust, ongoing, constructive feedback. That’s how work is accomplished.

Vulnerability-based trust creates a positive, secure environment for feedback. That’s because team members will then accept honest feedback with the conviction that, “This team member is on my side. This person is giving me difficult feedback because they want us all to win.” For more about accepting feedback, read Arden Coaching’s “Ten Tips on Accepting Feedback Gracefully.”

When Arden Coaching begins a team performance engagement, regardless of the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the team, trust is always the starting point. If people do not establish vulnerability-based trust, the team can’t succeed. There’s some sort of underlying fear preventing people from being open and honest. Trust truly is foundational to a cohesive, high-performing team. For more about trust, read Arden Coaching’s blog, “Trust is the Key to High Performing Organizational Cultures.”

Arden Coaching is an authorized partner of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ program. Based on Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviors model, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ program is a proven set of assessment and team-building tools that has become the most widely used process for effective team development globally.

To learn more about developing your team’s performance, executive coaching, and leadership training contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.