Module 4: Agile Team Dynamics & Leadership
Trust In Teams
Trust is one of the most valuable assets that a team can have, and high performing teams tend to have one thing in common: members trust each other.
What does it mean to trust?
To trust is to accept vulnerability. When we trust, we place our fate in the hands of another person. To trust is to have faith in someone. If there are full predictability and control – then we do not need to trust. Trust is only relevant when there is uncertainty. This makes trust especially important for innovation teams. As you know, when it comes to innovation, nothing is certain.
But trust can mean different things to different people. When asked what trust meant to them, people often answer with words such as Care, Dependence, Liking, Competence, Reliability, Commitment, and Benevolence. In a business context, it is important to recognize that trust with the heart and trust with the head are being built in different ways.
Different types of trust
Trust with the head
Some of the words above are less affectionate but more factual, like Competence, Reliability, and Dependence. We build “trust with the head” through professional credentials and past performance. You might trust someone’s knowledge because they have a Ph.D. You trust your colleague because she has been proven worthy of your trust in the past. This type of trust leads to confidence in your teammates as reliable and competent.
Trust with the heart
Some of these words are deeply affectionate. They are the type of words we associate with our most intimate relationships. This is what we call “trust with the heart.” Trust with the heart, however, cannot be built based on any degree. It requires a personal connection. And whereas trust with the head creates confidence in your teammates as reliable and competent, trust with the heart creates feelings of care and concern.
How to build trust depends on the context
It is next to impossible in some business contexts to form a business relationship unless the heart is also involved. China, Jordan, and Brazil are examples of relationship-based countries in which “trust” is often equated with “the heart.” In other countries, trust is closely related to the head. Task-based countries, such as Germany or the U.S., are often characterized by a head-type of trust.
Working in a team, you need to recognize these differences. If you are a trust-with-the-brain type of person, keep in mind that for some of your teammates, relationships matter more than they do to you. They simply might not trust you unless you have also had dinner together and they know the name of your spouse. If you are a trust-with-the-heart-type of person, don’t mistake your colleagues’ unwillingness to socialize for lack of trust.
Dependency vs Observability
Depending on the situation, the heart and/or the head should and can be involved. You need to be realistic about what type of trust is possible in the first place. If actions are observable, then you can trust with the head. On the other hand, if it is impossible to monitor your teammates or check their credentials – then trust with the head impossible. You will need to trust with the heart.
Before you build trust in a team, first assess what is possible and the level of reliability you have with the other party. Once that is determined, you can start to set priorities and decide how to monitor.
One-sided dependency, observability
In some relationships, dependence is once sided. If you hired a painter to repaint your house, you would be quite dependent on him since you intend to live in this house for many years to come. To him, you are just another customer. Simultaneously, his actions are very observable, and you can follow his work and recognize problems. This type of relationship can be built based on trust with the head.
One-sided dependency, no observability
In other relationships where dependence is one-sided, actions are less observable. For example, with babysitters, parents trust them with the most precious thing they have, and they have no way of verifying or controlling what happens when they’re gone. In this relationship, parents need to trust with the heart. Therefore, they tend to hire family members to babysit. Those have no formal training in babysitting, but the parents trust them deeply, with their hearts.
Two-sided dependency, no observability
In other relationships, dependence is two-sided. In a marriage, for example, actions are not observable. Credentials do not matter. We trust with the heart.
Two-sided dependency, observability
A tennis partner is a good example of such a relationship. When playing tennis in pairs, you are entirely dependent on your partner, and mistakes are painfully obvious. Innovation teams resemble tennis partner relationships. One team member cannot do her work unless other team members do theirs. At the same time, most actions are observable. We work together, have regular meetings and share information about our progress and our setbacks.
Trust in innovation teams
Innovation teams focus on learning and development where dependency is mutual and most but not all actions are observable. Therefore, monitoring and trust with the head are applicable. However, too much monitoring undermines the needed flexibility of innovation teams. This means that both trust with the heart and trust with the head are required and need to be balanced out.
Building trust is the most important thing you can do in a team. Make sure to give it some due consideration and thought.
How to build trust in innovation teams
Innovation teams need both a bit of the heart and the head to function. So how can you build trust with the head without undermining trust with the heart?
First rule of thumb: Start small
The first rule of thumb is to build trust through small, repeated actions over time. By building trust step by step, you have time to both demonstrate benevolence and care as well as reliability and competence. In this way, the heart and the head can move side-by-side.
Second rule of thumb: Align interests
The second rule of thumb is to recognize the possibility that team members have conflicting interests. Working in a team, you need to figure out the different interests of your teammates and create incentives that allow everyone to achieve his or hers without undermining the team as a whole. When team members have conflicting interests, trust is at risk. Members become suspicious that others are not pulling their weight. Or that they try to gain an unfair amount of credit for collective work.
Third rule of thumb: Establish escape clauses
The third rule of thumb is to talk about difficult things while you are still on good terms. In an innovation team, it can be a good idea to talk about what to do in a situation of trust breakdown. For example, what will you do if one team member does not deliver what is promised? Is it acceptable that members work on side projects while in the team? Is it acceptable to use material that was developed by the team for personal purposes?
The list is long of potential trust transgressions. Make sure to have an open conversation while still on good terms.
Once trust has been broken, it rapidly erodes. The sooner you can deal with trust problems, the better. If you can pre-empty trust issues before they occur – even better.