3 min read

Why Team Trust Matters

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Have you ever worked in a team where there was a high degree of mistrust? I have, and it was miserable. I worked in an environment of fear − fear that someone was sabotaging me, withholding information, misleading me, and marring my reputation. It was a time in my life marked by sleepless nights and one in which I viewed work as a drudgery. And now that I look back at this time, I am not surprised that I struggled. The potential effects of chronic fear on overall health are staggering. Mary D. Moller, director of Psychiatric Services, Northwest Center for Integrated Health explains that stressors trigger the release of stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and nonadrenaline which if left unchecked leads to burnout and adrenal fatigue, and a variety of other maladies. 


The Role of Leadership

What drives these environments of distrust? It appears that leadership plays a major role. By setting the tone for their teams, leaders model the behavior that others follow. And according to the book Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You, the degree employees trust their leader has to do with authenticity. The author describes an authentic leader as someone who clearly communicates their values and acts accordingly; someone who is open and honest about who they are and is able to demonstrate a high EQ.


Trust and Psychological Safety

Authentic leadership is paramount to creating psychological safety, which is characterized as an environment where team members can speak up and share their ideas without fear of negative repercussions. Timothy R. Clark, CEO of LeaderFactor and author of the book, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation sums up the connection between trust and psychological safety:


“Trust is essentially the predictive understanding of another's behavior. The link between trust and psychological safety is based on my prediction of your behavior based on your pattern of behavior. If I can predict that you won't embarrass, punish, or humiliate me when I'm interacting with you and others in a social setting, I'm much more likely to engage, participate, and release my discretionary efforts. If I don't trust that you will keep me safe, that lack of trust will trigger my self-censoring instinct and I'll play it safe and manage my own personal risk." 


Establishing Trust

Establishing a culture of trust is a two-way street. Authentic leaders can play a pivotal role by providing team members with a reasonable degree of autonomy with how they complete their work, provide context as to why they are being asked to work on something, help them remove roadblocks, and explain why their contribution matters. In return, employees who feel empowered work harder because they feel that their work has purpose. This dynamic spills over into interactions between colleagues, thus establishing a culture of trust. 


At Arctos360, we have seen the dynamics of trust and team cohesion play out over the course of our programs. By providing group coaching experiences for teams, we provide participants with an opportunity to be vulnerable with each other in a way that feels very safe. We are not asking for people to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. We are simply providing participants with an opportunity to work together and share aspects of themselves that they are comfortable sharing. By the end of our program, team members have established a common bond around awareness of each other and their collective wellbeing. Participants have described the program as the most efficient way to get to know each other while establishing a foundation for their own personal health.  Regardless of what approach you take to establishing a culture of trust, investing in this process may be one of the most important steps you take to building a high-performance team.