Trust as Foundation

Trust gets mentioned a lot in organizations. I agree it is a terribly important thing, but it is often put up too high on a pedestal. You hear things like:

It’s important that we trust each other here.
I want you to know that I trust you completely
I wish there were more trust on this team.

Again, that’s all great. But when does trust ever get defined or operationalized? When does it become real?

Once again, I point to a favorite author of mine, Patrick Lencioni. The first book of his that I read is called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It focuses on senior management teams, but it is applicable to any group. In the small “theory” section of the book, he draws a simple pyramid, with five levels (one for each dysfunction).

The base of the pyramid is lack of trust.

And here’s how it plays out. If you don’t have trust, then team members will not be vulnerable in front of other team members. It’s that simple. You won’t expose yourself. This means you won’t share information (it might expose that you don’t know enough), you won’t ask questions. You certainly won’t ask for help. And, as Lencioni says, you won’t have your conflict. You’ll avoid it; brush it to the side. Since you never air or resolve your conflict, the decisions your team makes lack real commitment. People nod agreement because they avoid the conflict, but in the end, some don’t agree and will go their own way. This makes holding people accountable very difficult, and tends to push the team away from caring about group results and toward covering their own you-know-whats.

So if you have problems with results, accountability or commitment, you might want to look at trust (the “real” kind, not the lofty high-level kind).


  1. 21.04.2006 at 10:28 am

    At our association, we have 11 guiding principles: Flexibility, Communication, Integrity, Innovation, Respect, Strive for Excellence, Teamwork, Ownership, Empowerment and Healthy Debate. I always thought Trust was conspicuously absent. We debated adding it to the GPs, but it was felt that Trust was implied in Respect. I still feel Trust should be explicitly addressed as a guiding principle. Your post reaffirms my feelings on this. Thanks!