Do You Want Team Members to Trust You?

November 29, 2017

Trust is what brings people together on successful teams, allowing them to work in a productive manner to address business opportunities and threats. In these teams, everyone contributes and there are no hidden agendas, conflicting motives, or political posturing. To build such a culture, team members must demonstrate three trust-enhancing behaviors:

Are you capable? Team members trust others who deliver the results they promise. This is the hard side of trust because it requires that team members have the motivation, skill, and judgment needed to meet their obligations to others. In a business setting, we trust those who have what it takes to deliver the goods.

Do you care? Trust requires that your colleagues believe that you care about them and will work to help them be successful. More specifically, people trust those who put the success of the team before their own individual interests (versus those who look out only for themselves). This is the soft side of trust because it is less tangible than hard results but equally important. We trust those who we see as warm and supportive.

Are you authentic? Trust requires that others view you as being transparent in your dealings with them. This is the “walk matching the talk.” When people sense that someone is withholding information or being deceptive, they begin to question his or her trustworthiness. People are more likely to trust those they see as authentic even when they disagree with them. We trust those who are what they appear to be.

The erosion of team trust

Trust is undermined if any of the above behaviors is missing. That is, you can’t simply be strong in one area if you want others to fully trust you. Take, for example, a person who cares about his colleagues but lacks the capabilities needed to deliver on his commitments. Team members are never sure if he is going to meet his deadlines, and he is not trusted to lead an important project. At the other extreme, consider a highly capable person who is primarily interested in advancing her career. She is respected for her skills but will not be trusted by peers who see her as self-serving.

Both people will be distrusted by their peers but for very different reasons. Fall below expectations in any of the three trust-enhancing behaviors and you risk being distrusted—which will result in colleagues being less willing to work with you in an open and collaborative manner. Distrust, once formed, is difficult to overcome because it protects us from those who could cause us harm.

The challenge is that the three behaviors that enhance trust are at times in conflict. Consider the team leader who needs to remove an underperforming but well-liked team member. In this case, the leader may be seen as not caring about the person and his family. The leader is doing what is required for the group to be successful but will be viewed by some as focusing only on business results. The best team leaders skillfully manage these potential conflicts, which will inevitably arise at times in the life of a team.

Trust as a team asset

Leaders also need to ensure that each team member demonstrates the above behaviors. The level of trust across a team is eroded when even a single member fails in any of the three areas. Trust, for example, is undermined at a group level when a team member acts in a manipulative or covert manner.

Part of a leader’s role is to assess the level of trust within his or her team and, when needed, make changes in the group’s staffing and practices. The leader does this knowing that trust is a valuable team asset that provides an advantage to those who understand the key role it plays in team performance.

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About The Author

Robert Bruce Shaw is the author of Extreme Teams: Why Pixar, Netflix, Airbnb, and Other Cutting-Edge Companies Succeed Where Most Fail (AMACOM, 2017). He is a consultant specializing in organizational and team performance. An in-demand speaker, Shaw also is the author of Trust in the Balance and Leadership Blindspots.


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