|  Organisational Health   |  TRUST


There are two drivers which catalyse teams towards greatness. 

Team SMARTS and team HEALTH. 

Team SMARTS often get the lion’s share of attention, and include elements such as having a clear goal, excellent strategy, careful forecasting, and effective systems. These are the more tangible levers that drive success. 

Team HEALTH, however, is all too often overlooked. It is seen as ‘a nice to have’. A pleasant bonus if the team can get along while living out the SMARTS we are driving forward. Increasingly, however, we are coming to realise that the health of the team is as important in creating a high performing team. Studies are showing that when team members are engaged, connected and personally satisfied in a healthy relational environment – their commitment, productivity and work excellence all shoot sky high. 

As I have led and managed teams over the past number of years, and now, more recently, have worked with various teams to help them really flourish, I keep coming back to a few essential gifts that we can give to ensure our teams truly thrive. These are elements I can give whether I am a team leader or a team member.

We can give trust. We can give clarity. We can give a healthy self. 

Allow me to dig into the trust here, (and revisit the next two at a later stage), because trust is one of those team HEALTH levers that will either multiply your SMARTS, or radically undermine it. 


Stephen Covey and Patrick Lencioni both agree that trust is the crucial ingredient and foundation for every high functioning and healthy team. It is the currency of a team. Peter Drucker said it vividly:

“Trust eats strategy for breakfast”

In other words, we can have the best strategy (or smarts) in the world, but they rest on a foundation of trust. If that foundation is weak or shaky, then the strategy falls to pieces. 

So what exactly is trust?

I have come to realise that trust is multifaceted and I now define it as follows:

“Trust is having confidence in others’ ability, reliability, integrity and intent.”

The opposite of trust is suspicion – I’m not sure if I can rely on you, or if there are hidden motives, so doubt creeps in and lucks in the shadows of every interaction we have. Trust is having a confidence that I can rely on you in four areas:

Ability – I can trust your competence and skill,
Reliability – I can trust you will do what you say and get stuff done,
Integrity – I trust your character is honest and not two faced,
Intent – I trust you at a relational level, knowing you have my best interest at heart.

Now, let me ask a question. What is the verb that immediately comes to mind when you consider trust? Perhaps the verb ‘break’ sprang to mind because trust can be broken in an instant. Or perhaps the verb ‘earn’ came to mind, with the understanding that trust is something that happens slowly over time as an individual ‘proves’ that I can rely on them. There is certainly a lot of truth in that understanding. Trust does naturally grow over time. However, I want to highlight a different verb for us today – BUILD. Trust can be intentionally and deliberately developed within a team. We can, and should, make the strategic decision to proactively build trust within our team! How?

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By sharing stories. Inviting people to share their life journeys, and for it to be received without ridicule or judgement by the rest of the team, goes a long way to build trust. You may say that people’s personal stories are irrelevant to the objectives of the team, but if the objectives of the team are better and more quickly reached off the foundation of high trust levels, then personal stories can become a powerful catalyst towards a high functioning team. If I feel ‘known’ by my team members, then I feel safe. If I feel safe, then I am empowered to give my best.

As a team leader, have you created a safe space for people to share their personal stories with each other? As a team member, have you asked individuals you work with to tell you their stories?

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By creating space for vulnerability. Lencioni describes vulnerability as one of the most effective tools in building trust. When I allow my fragility to be seen by others, and when that fragility is held with respect by the rest of the team – trust is multiplied. But our society resists vulnerability, believing that if we show weakness, we will be taken advantage of. In some cases that may be true, but if we are seeking to build an effective and unified team then we need to learn to embrace and invite vulnerability within the security of the team. Lencioni says it this way: “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Now, this doesn’t mean we have to break down in tears once a week and share our deepest darkest secrets. Rather, it means fighting for a culture where we can ask for help when we need it. Where we can admit if we don’t know the answer. Where we can quickly, and without fear, own our mistakes. Where we can share a fear, knowing it will be acknowledged with respect by the rest of the team. Where we can be realistic about our weaker areas, inviting other team members to cover those gaps with us. 

As a team leader, are you creating a safe enough environment where people can grow in their vulnerability with each other? And even more importantly, are you setting an example of vulnerability for your team?

As a team member, are you taking the scary step of sharing vulnerably with other team members?

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By filling the gap with trust. Okay, those are not my words, they are from Andy Stanley. He had this brilliant axiom: “When you experience a gap between what you expected and what you experienced, choose to fill the gap with trust.” If we don’t fill the gap with trust, we fill it with suspicion. 

“Did they really mean what they said?”
“Are they just looking out for themselves?”
“Will they let me down again next time?” 

Suspicion erodes trust but we have a choice to fill that gap with trust rather than suspicion. In other words, extending our trust towards others is a choice we get to make every day. Now, don’t take this too far. Obviously, there are people we should not trust, and situations where suspicion is probably the wisest route to take. But in the context of building a team and promoting unity – choosing to extend trust beyond what has been naturally built up will accelerate the speed of trust in the team. And when you struggle to fill that gap with trust, then go straight to the person involved and have an open conversation about it with them. Figure out what the expectation was, what the experience was and why you felt the gap. Sometimes the expectation needs to be changed. Sometimes the experience needs to be improved. Sometimes there is a legitimate reason for the gap, and understanding that reason will enable you to choose trust over suspicion. 

As a team leader or a team member, are you filling the gap with trust or suspicion? Are there any gaps that need to be directly addressed so that suspicion doesn’t take root?

Be trustworthy. Make it your aim to leave no gap between what your team members expect and experience from and of you. Say what you mean. Do what you say. Follow through on commitments, and when you see that it is going to be a gap, speak to the people involved directly about it.

As a team leader or team member, how is your gap management? How often do others on the team experience a difference between what they expected and experienced? Are there any gaps you need to address right now?

I wonder what our teams would be like if we each made the strategic and intentional choice to invest in trust? I anticipate we would see rising levels of engagement, synergy, stability, and productivity. We would be growing towards being genuinely great teams!

Which of these four elements needs your attention, and what are you practically going to do about it?


Brad is an optimistic leader and coach who loves helping teams and individuals take positive steps towards maximising their true potential.

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