How Do You Build Trust?

Note: Wrapping up this series about Trust, I thought a 'how-to' might be helpful. Enjoy. Previous installments of my weekly blog from 2013 can be found on my website at

The Answer is "One Step at a Time!"
If the figure on the left looks familiar, it should; it was right there last week as I drew a dotted line relationship between the qualities of trust and a commodity. Still relevant this week, the pyramid represents the building blocks necessary for creating a high performing team and a successful organization.

The foundational quality for any high performing organization is trust; not predictive trust, but vulnerability-based trust. Predictive-based trust is when you can rely on a co-worker to always break the tension in a team meeting by cracking a joke while vulnerability-based trust is when that same person will ask for the team's help in working through a problem getting his work completed by a deadline. They are very different forms of trust.

How Do You Measure Trust (or the absence thereof)?
There are various, algorithm-based assessments available to measure trust levels on a team, but I like the one that accompanies the above (Patrick Lencioni) "5 Dysfunctions of a Team" model. This Trust Assessment Tool is available online from The Table Group and once completed by all team members; it will be compiled into the figure on the left, to provide a team with an instant look at the condition of the top most significant dysfunctions of a team. As you can see, this particular team had quite a bit of work to get to where they wanted to be; i.e., more greens than reds, and it made for a rousing offsite to work through the issues keeping them from high performance.

(NOTE: After an offsite, it is recommended that the team take this assessment again in six months to a year to measure any improvements in the levels for each quality of a high performing team.)

Real World
When you’re a high energy, achievement-oriented leader, you surround yourself with others just like you.  You assume that others will learn to work together by themselves to reach ever more ambitious annual goals set by the corporate office.  You believe that just by working harder you will overcome any obstacles in your path. You move fast, you multi-task, you overbook your schedule every day to get more things done – and sometimes this can lead to a ship-like wake that can swamp others, resulting in the sub-optimal performance of the team as a whole.

Michelle, CEO of a four hospital group within a larger system, was very efficient in her position. She willingly and eagerly took on anything the corporate office would throw at her and drove her team very hard to achieve the goals. Her move-at-warp-speed management style, although inspiring, was difficult to keep up with and seemed to change direction often. As not to waste effort, team members would sometimes wait to see if the new direction would stick before they took action.  When this bias towards waiting meant more attention from Michelle, the effect was strain and tentativeness within the Executive Team. Everyone’s intentions were good, yet team results were less than desired.

On top of this, Michelle and the team were under pressure to embrace the newest corporate strategic plan, and she wanted to get some “air under their wings” to reach the new heights set for them.  She thought about the facilitators for the previous three years of offsite team retreats and, although each retreat was fun and informative, they had not had the lasting impact on the team she needed.

To move forward, I suggested that she take her team away for a team building effort. As I always do, I interviewed her top reports to identify the challenges that the team was facing.  (I also had them all take the Trust Assessment tool shown above, and their actual results are shown.) The agenda for the two-day offsite was designed to meld the team into one unit using a Goal-Focused Team Building approach. The top reports were quick to understand that their problems were universal and a simultaneously supportive and challenging environment focused on team success was just what was needed.

During the offsite process, we all worked together to explore the elements of Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, and Results as keys for teams to work together. The entire team was better able to understand each other in a meaningful yet not touchy-feely way. By the end of the retreat, Michelle, and her team were able to commit to shared goals and better ways to work with each other for the good of everyone.

At the final follow-up session months after the initial retreat, the team was proud to report accelerated and measurable group performance, full commitment to the strategic plan, and much higher morale. Privately, Michelle shared that her delegation to her COO of many of the day-to-day decisions had enabled her to play a much more strategic role at the system level. At year-end, Michelle’s hospitals made their financial goals and their plan goals for quality and patient safety. 

Next Week: Case History on Building Trust