Trust: What is it?

By: Steve Marshall Monday April 4, 2016 0 comments Tags: Steve Marshall


Definition of Trust
Merriam-Webster says: "assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something." 

Well, that's a mouthful, but, from that, I am still not sure I can tell what trust is. I do know that it is very rare in 2016 to find trust, especially in the workplace. Promises are broken, agreements end in tatters and words being spoken with confidence end up being meaningless. 

I do know that there are two types of workplace trust: predictive and vulnerability-based trust.Steve_Marshall_insideFIXED

Predictive Trust
If I was CEO of a company with 250 employees, I could say, with some assurance, that I trust that 95% of them willshow up for work on any given dayand the remainder could be sick, out for jury duty or a personal day. Or, in another instance, trust is when you know a colleague long enough to know what to expect from him or her.  

These are examples of predictive trust. While this kind of trust is useful, it’s not fundamental to creating great team dynamics.

“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”

What are you doing as a manager or member of your team to build trust? The first step is to be vulnerable with your team. This will allow others to be vulnerable with you and build workplace trust.

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Vulnerability-Based Trust
The age of individual success is waning, being replaced by collective impact; i.e., a team approach to business. It’s not rocket science to state that trust is necessary for team building. Nor is it a stretch to say that the more trust there is among team members; the better the team thrives. 

Anyone can deduct that a thriving team equals thriving productivity. The first step is to be vulnerable with your team; especially so as the leader. This will allow others to be vulnerable with you and build workplace trust. 

As Patrick Lencioni says,“Vulnerability-based trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about what's best for the team.”

The moment you’re able to tell a colleague “I’m bad at this,” “I was wrong” or“You’ve done a terrific job”; the moment you’re willing to be this vulnerable without fearing your colleague is abusing the situation, that’s when you have the trust you need.

That, combined with all of the other team members' willingness to be vulnerable creates the kind of trust that builds team dynamics, spurs on creativity and produces satisfying results.

There is an old saying that reads: "Those that play together; stay together." Within the environment of team building, it should read; "Those that trust together; excel together."

You know, contrary to what’s often cited in job descriptions, teamwork is neither a virtue nor skill. Teamwork is a choice each team member makes. If trust is lacking in a team, the members will choose — either consciously or unconsciously — not to work (well) together.

Case History
“You know what your problem is? You believe that everybody thinks and acts as thoughtful as you do.”  

The look my new coaching client gave me as he said this, put me back on my heels. It was a sort of "you're an idiot" look. Coming from anybody else I might’ve considered this comment a layered compliment; however, coming from him it felt like an explicit warning. (As the COO, he was not happy that his CEO had assigned him an executive coach, and he was trying to set the boundaries for future meetings between us.)

Watching some of our interactions, the CEO even took me aside and asked me if I didn’t like the COO! The Executive Team was out having office drinks that evening, and the mood was somewhat casual. I glanced over at the COO, congenial with others, and turned to the CEO, “I don’t know how to read him yet.”

The Office Games We Play
While the COO I was assigned to coach acted somewhat friendly, he held his distance. So at the first weekly staff meeting with the Executive Team, I stressed how he had helped me understand the complexity of the company very quickly and credited him for some superb ideas that I presented to improve communications flow within the enterprise.

I did this for two reasons; one, it was the truth. My thoughts came from ‘fresh eyes;" but there’s no way I could ever have done it in the time allocated without the COO's help. Two, it was a collaborative process, and I needed to show him he could trust me. His attitude towards me changed then and there. I had proven to him that I was trustworthy, and yes, it turned out we worked well together.

The reason I was brought in to coach the COO was that he had been particularly disruptive in the office; in short, he was the office loudmouth, and it was damaging morale, in particular on the Executive Team.  He had a bad habit of taking credit for work that his subordinates were doing, interrupting others while they were talking, and he was constantly elbowing his way into the center of the CEO's attention. As a key player in the everyday operations of the company, he also played favorites; he would agree with everyone he spoke to about their ideas, then disagree with them in group settings.

This behavior was not only breaking down trust within the team and for him; it was becoming toxic for the entire company. We all in (office) life make judgment calls of who is trustworthy versus who is untrustworthy and he was not trustworthy in the eyes of his peers or direct reports.

I needed to have him see how others perceived him, and so I created a 360-degree review process within the group of his subordinates. Later, as he read through what his direct reports thought about him, at first, he got angry and discredited the process.

Next, he just seemed to deflate and asked me if I thought these perceptions were accurate. I responded by asking him if there was any truth in what they were saying and he slowly nodded yes. He was shocked and humbled, to say the least. I went on to ask, "What are you willing to do about it?" 

He asked for my help in creating a plan to make amends, which included individual meetings with each of his peers, and a public apology at the next Executive Team Meeting. This gesture on his part went a long way toward beginning to establish the trust that was necessary to build a high performing team.

Well, I am sure the burning question from all of you is, were the changes he made in his behavior sustain themselves in the long-term? Unfortunately, no. He did OK as long as I was involved, but as soon as my contract ended with the company, he reverted to his old ways quickly and ultimately, the CEO fired him. Why? Simple - the CEO just didn't trust him anymore! 

“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”

What are you doing as a manager or member of your team to build trust? The first step is to be vulnerable with your team. This will allow others to be vulnerable with you and build workplace trust.

Steve Marshall

About the Author: Steve Marshall

Steve Marshall coaches, consults, and facilitates for clients.

With over 35 years' experience in revenue and organizational development, strategic planning, leadership coordination, and managing change, Steve comes to the table with real-world skills and deep insight.

Steve has led building and capital expansion campaigns at hospitals, colleges, and large non-profit associations. Steve worked for three prominent national consulting firms and for himself in on-site, supervisory and executive capacities. His work has included revenue and organizational development work for national, regional and community projects and involved hospitals, medical centers, educational institutions, national and community-based organizations.

To Steve, living has been all about the experience – lots of them in the military, adrenaline sports, education and the health care world. Coupled with his lifelong curiosity about most things that he doesn’t know, Steve feels uniquely qualified to comment and ask lots of questions. His quest is to make things the best they can be, to see more people tap their untapped potential, and to create workplace environments where all that can happen.

Steve enjoys life to the fullest, with his wife, two children and two Golden Retrievers. He served on numerous boards in Washington and Colorado, assisted in the creation of the Fort Collins Bicycle Retailers Alliance and is thrilled to see Fort Collins become the 4th City in the nation to achieve Platinum designation as a Bicycle Friendly City from the League of American Bicyclists.

See Steve's LinkedIn profile for more details