Trust in Teams
How important is ‘trust’ in international relationships? Most
people instinctively see it as essential but elusive. It can
act both as the lubricant which brings out the best in team
cooperation as well as the glue which binds whole teams and
work groups together under the strains of geographical distance
and cultural diversity. Research indicates that there are
clear links between trust and overall team effectiveness,
levels of innovation and creativity, and a team’s readiness
to adapt and accept change.
Low levels of trust affect bottom-line productivity
as people minimise their vulnerability by 'playing safe', ever more elaborate
and costly checking systems are introduced, offers of advice are ignored, and
valuable but sensitive information is withheld. This all leads to communication
breakdowns, defensiveness, poor team learning and higher levels of anxiety. Team
energies are diverted away from the external needs of the customer towards
second guessing the real motives of colleagues internally.
When working across different national boundaries
the building blocks of trust are even less available. We tend to place higher
initial trust with friends, family members or people who share our way of
thinking and behaving. Foreigners don't so easily fall into these categories.
The meaning of trust is not universal - vertrauen in German has different
associations compared to fiducia in Italian which, in turn, is conceptually
different from trust for Anglo-Saxons – so we may conclude that people from
other cultures are untrustworthy simply because we have grown up to give
different emphasis to a range of trustworthiness signals.
But, when was the last time you explored the issue
of trust explicitly with your work colleagues? How many team-building processes
explicitly explore the issue of trust or seek to measure and build trust between
team members? It is rare because it is such a sensitive issue which touches
people's very identity. So we tend to bury it....and hope for the best.
The Trust Criteria
Because one of the key challenges for international
teams is the establishment of an atmosphere of mutual trust, WorldWork has
developed a unique process to enable teams to explore this critical factor.
Based on available research we have identified 10
different ‘Criteria’ that people from many different cultures use to decide
whether to trust others. These are:
Open with Information
The International Team Trust
Based on these trust criteria, we have developed a process to identify levels of
trust and the trust 'deficit' within any given team or workgroup. Using the
trust criteria outlined above, the ITTI can used to assess levels of trust, and
between members of a team or work group
between a team and the team leader
between a team and the wider organisational
environment in which it operates
For the International Team Trust Indicator each team member completes a
questionnaire which identifies for them the behaviours and attitudes they need
from their colleagues if they are to trust them, and also what they are actually
experiencing in this respect. These individual results are then pooled to
provide an overall report for the team as a whole. The report contains a range
of graphical analysis options that will enable the team leader and team members
to identify the nature of any trust deficits within the team.
The same process is used for the Team Leader and Organisational Environment
The ITTI provides some important benefits for all
teams and work groups, but especially for those operating across boundaries of
culture, language and distance. These include:
How trusting is your team? - an
understanding of the differing levels of trust disposition among the team
Do we understand trust in the same way?
- a comparison of the differing emphasis each team member gives to the
carefully researched international trust criteria
Where in the team do trust deficits exist?
- highlighting the critical trust gaps between key relationships within the
What specific behaviours do we need to
enhance to reduce the trust deficit? - practical suggestions as to where
the team needs to focus in order to build trust across the whole team
How can we work towards higher levels of
trust? - guidelines for team leaders in conducting short workshops
towards 'team trust alignment'
if you would like to receive case studies illustrating how important trust is
for productive teams ans as an element of successful leadership.