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Alaina Love


How to Evaluate the Quality of Trust on Your Team

Building team unity is key to navigating rapid change

Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 11:02

‘I really don’t reach out to any of my colleagues when I’m struggling with a problem,” Alex confessed. “I’m the only woman at this level in the company and was chosen for this position over two men who were once my peers. I’m not about to ask for help and risk looking like I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Alex is one of three senior leaders who recently joined the executive team of a service organization. Team dynamics have not been the best since the CEO expanded the group composition. Episodes of friction and infighting between new and tenured members of the team have become routine, the effects of which are being felt by those lower in the organization. Like Alex, other members of the team weren’t reaching out to one another for input or advice because of fear of being judged harshly for doing so.

When I spoke with the CEO, it was clear that little had been done to truly integrate the team after it was expanded. Because the company was growing so rapidly, everyone was busy with their own divisional priorities, and the new team members got swept up in the flow.

“I think the last time I went to lunch with anyone was two years ago,” said Andrew, the CFO. “Most of us eat at our desks, or during a meeting. There’s no real time for leisurely chats with the guy sitting in the office next door.”

The culture in this company was like many I’ve seen. Run fast, chase growth, or jog in place if you have to—but whatever you do, don’t stop moving. The result is often great for the bottom line initially, but returns wane as team dynamics strain under the relentless pace. That’s where trust-building among team members becomes so important.

The same behaviors that build trust also help the team to manage rapid change, which is why healthy trust levels on your team are so essential. Like trust, vulnerability is required to develop comfort with the ambiguity that’s so characteristic of change. Similarly, building trust and navigating change both require persistence. Leveraging change also requires the same understanding necessary for establishing trust on a team—a certainty that what the team can do together far outweighs what any one member could accomplish alone.

If you want to evaluate trust on the team you lead, pay attention to four networks of team interaction, first conceived by Patricia Pope of Pope Consulting, where trust is crucial for success:

Image Credit: Alaina Love

Competence network: Do your team members view each other as competent leaders who have the skills required to help the team succeed? Are they confident that their colleagues can be counted on to deliver and meet deadlines? Belief in a colleague’s competence strengthens overall trust within that relationship, so it’s important for team members to understand the background, experiences, and competencies each person brings to the team.

Integrity network: Do team members trust that they can share private or confidential information with one another, and have that confidentiality respected? When team members are willing to share when they are struggling, as well as support each other through difficult personal or professional challenges, it’s a good sign that this interaction network is healthy.

Informal communications network: Beyond formal role-specific interactions, are members of your team seeking out their colleagues? Do they take time from their day to walk around and chat with one another and with employees to get a sense of what’s happening in the culture? Do they socialize at work or during the evenings or weekends? Healthy levels of informal communication can improve team trust and strengthen confidence among colleagues that their teammates can be counted on to keep them in the loop.

Advice network: When team trust is at its highest, colleagues are vulnerable enough to solicit advice from one another while working through a difficult professional issue, or when they want to gain another person’s perspective about a decision they are contemplating. Team members value each other’s experience and know that when advice is solicited, it will be offered without their competence being questioned. Are team members seeking advice from someone other than you?

Demonstrating trust and developing high-quality team networks begins at the top, so as a leader you must model the behaviors you want to see replicated. When your team has earned your trust, that’s easy to do. But what’s more important to ask is if you have earned theirs.

First published June 4, 2019, on the SmartBrief blog.


About The Author

Alaina Love’s picture

Alaina Love

Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw Hill, 2009). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well ... passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer, and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams, and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.