Effective Teams Begin with Trust

Dysfunctional teams can produce results, but not consistently and not over the long term. An effective team that produces results consistently requires many attributes, but they all must begin with trust.

More than anything else, trust enables people to work together effectively.

Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, says this workplace trust is a function of both character and competence. Character includes integrity, motives, and your intent with other people. Competence is your capabilities, skills, results and track record. Both are essential for trust.

Trust lays the foundation for two or more people to function effectively because it instills assurance that the other person(s) can be relied upon.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he describes a lack of trust as an “unwillingness to be vulnerable.” This ability to be vulnerable is essential for people to feel connected—in both our personal and professional relationships—and that enables us to trust that we can count on each other.

In his book, Lencioni describes how trust shows up in teams.

When there is an absence of trust, team members:

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together


When there is trust, team members:

  • Admit weaknesses and mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility
  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion
  • Take risks in offering feedback and assistance
  • Appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

Successful teams demonstrate confidence that every team member’s intentions are good and they can feel safe within the group.

Trust within a team often requires that individual members demonstrate relational trust. Covey identifies 13 behaviors that strengthen relational trust. These are: talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability, listen first, keep commitments, extend trust.

These behaviors don’t demand that everyone be an outgoing extravert who shares their entire lives with everyone at work. Instead, it is the ability to be open and transparent about who you are in a professional sense.

The ability to be open with each other is not so much about sharing personal information as it is sharing your knowledge, skills and experience with regard to the work you’re doing. And it is about the team members’ perception of your integrity, authenticity and level of caring.

The perception of these attributes will determine whether you are someone of character and competence team members are able to work with. And that is the trust they need to function effectively as a team.

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