Unfortunately, there is probably no quality or characteristic that is as rare as trust, either. But I suppose that’s good news for your team, because if you can be the first on your block to build trust, the possibility of achieving a real competitive advantage is great.
So why is trust so rare? Two reasons. First, people use the word inconsistently, and so trust means different things to different people. Second, because it’s just plain hard. Let’s start by defining what we mean by trust, and the best way to do that is to clarify what trust is not.
Trust is not the ability of team members to predict one another’s behaviors because they’ve known each other for a long time. Even the most dysfunctional teams, or families for that matter, can learn to forecast one another’s words and actions based on observable patterns over a long period of time. So when, for example, a person says, “I trust that George will start swearing at me if I mention his inability to arrive at a meeting on time,” know that this is not the kind of trust I’m talking about.
When it comes to teams, trust is all about vulnerability. Team members who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open, even exposed, to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears. Now, if this is beginning to sound like some get-naked, touchy-feely theory, rest assured that it is nothing of the sort.
Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple –and practical- idea that people who aren’t afraid to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in the kind of political behavior that wastes everyone’s time and energy, and more important, makes the accomplishment of results an unlikely scenario.
The key to all of this then, is to teach team members to get comfortable being exposed to one another, unafraid to honestly say things like “I was wrong” and “I made a mistake” and “I need help” and “I’m not sure” and “you’re better than I am at that” and yes, even “I’m sorry.” If team members cannot bring themselves to readily speak these words when the situation calls for it, they aren’t going to learn to trust one another. Instead, they’re going to waste time and energy thinking about what they should say, and wondering about the true intentions of their peers.