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Last week I found myself musing over how brilliant it is when I feel really connected to the team. Several one on ones had left me with that warm feeling inside when you know you have just ‘connected’ and I knew that good work would come of those conversations. This blog is about the feeling of ‘connectedness’ and the necessity for ‘trust’ in high performing teams.

How did the connection happen? Many ingredients came together to create this powerful platform:

A common agenda
Respect for each other
Authentic being
Listening to each other
A sense of fair giving and receiving by both parties
Time to connect

Can you have connection without trust? Personally, I would argue NO as I believe that trust is key if you want to achieve great things. Yes, there are millions of teams ‘doing work’ that don’t have trust – but the fact is they do better work when trust is present. Much of our work with teams is about taking them on this emotional journey of building trust and connections with their peers and leaders.

How is trust created? Over the weekend I saw a lovely anonymous quotation “When there is no trust, there is no us” and I pondered on how this simple yet powerful sentence underpins our work around building high performing teams.

Stephen Covey (1992) uses a metaphor of an “emotional bank account” – which contains the amount of trust that has been built up in a relationship with another human being. He warns about withdrawing before you have enough reserves! Here are some thoughts about trust that may be helpful as you reflect on your own team:

How does trust help a team?

1) Trust leads to better communication.

“When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant and effective” (Stephen Covey)

2) Trust leads to bigger relationships which in turn leads to greater team performance.

Trust dictates the ‘size of a relationship’ and the work of Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 informs us that the size of any relationship determines the size of what is possible as a result of that relationship. Less blind spots (by giving each other constructive feedback) and less facades (by sharing more about our real selves) increases the ‘shared arena’ in any relationship.

Johari Window

3) Trust leads to respect and confidence in another person’s decisions and actions.

All too often team members tell us that they want to be ‘empowered’ to do the job they know they are capable of doing – without micro management or limited decision making powers. Can you imagine the savings in time, energy and resources that empowered cultures could create?

4) Trust influences risk taking and innovation

Approximately 60% of teams we have worked with during the last 12 months have cited the need to become more innovative as a team and often as a business. The single biggest threat to innovation is lack of trust. This leads to a fear culture and a lack of risk taking. Organisations need to look at the dynamics of their teams to understand how relationships are causing fundamental cultural barriers to strategic performance.

Sometimes the barriers to trust are created by our thinking and speaking.

Daniel Goleman (author, psychologist, and science journalist) and George Kohlrieser (psychologist and hostage negotiator) describe tribal and adversarial behaviour within teams and organisations that can lead to poor service or projects being torpedoed. Adversarial thinking can lead to distrust that prevents great team performance.

Andrew Boyton, a Space2BE consultant, trains leaders and teams to understand the level of adversarial thinking and trust by diagnosing the language within teams.

The language used in emails, conversations and meetings provides important clues (see table below):

Distrust Verbal Clues
Trust Verbal Clues
I, you, them We, us
My, mine, your Our,
I do this / that for We work together to

His workshops teach that proactive bonding is a mindset that can create and retain greater trust. By actively looking for common values and goals between individuals and teams, a team will eliminate any built-in adversarial filters in a meeting, service or project. It stops that inner-dialogue of tribal seeking. We need to understand that it is normal for the brain to be looking for tribal behaviour; you’re like my tribe or you’re different from my tribe. You’re a friend or an enemy. It’s you or us. Looking for the common goal, or a positive outcome, can also help you feel open minded and calm whilst building a trusting environment – an ideal state for finding creative solutions.


Here are some questions for your team:

  1. How much trust is present across our team?
  2. What does this trust look like?
  3. Where is it clear trust doesn’t exist?
  4. How are we dealing with low trust relationships right now?
  5. How does constructive, well intended and delivered feedback play its role?
  6. What new skills and ways of being do the team need to learn to be a better, trusted and trusting team member?

Food for thought.

Thanks for reading,