Kaya Consulting

Leaders, trust and team performance

How your trust bias impacts on your team’s wellbeing and performance.

As a leader, understanding your team’s predisposition to trust and nurturing workplace trust are vitally important. A lack of trust often means a lack of team effectiveness. But what about your own individual predisposition to trust? Where do you sit on the trust grid? How does that affect your team and their performance, particularly when new people join your team? And crucially, what can you do to ensure your predisposition to trust (or not to trust) doesn’t impact negatively on the performance of your team?


The trust gift: How much trust do you give?


We all have a natural tendency when it comes to trust, which is most pronounced when we meet people for the first time. So what’s your tendency?

Say you meet a new team member for the first time. What level of trust do you grant them?

At one end of the trust curve, there are leaders who will instinctively give very little trust – they want people to prove themselves, to earn their trust. Others are naturally inclined to trust, believing that there’s good in everyone – in essence, they trust until someone proves they don’t deserve that trust.

What’s your natural inclination?

There are no right or wrong answers here. Your trust tendency isn’t a reflection on your abilities as a leader. But developing self-awareness – or self-insight – about your predisposition to trust can make a huge difference to your success as a leader and the wellbeing and performance of your team.

An example: A leader’s trust insight story

Recently, I spent a day with a team experiencing some problems. The team had a new leader and, while the team was established and had been functioning, there was now a problem. The team’s wellbeing, effectiveness and performance were in question.

During the day, I spoke to the leader individually and posed a simple question:

With a new team member joining the team soon, what level of trust would the leader grant to the person joining the team?

The leader was a little surprised by the question, but very clear in his response: he said he didn’t trust people until they had proven their technical skills or expertise – something that was evident in the way he managed his team.

In short, he sat in the ‘Distrust’ quadrant on the trust grid and could only progress to the ‘Trust’ quadrant – where teams perform at their best – via the ‘Respect’ quadrant. People in his team had to earn his respect and, thereby, his trust.

trust grid

The next question I asked surprised the leader even more: being aware of this tendency in himself, how did he manage it? How did he ensure his natural inclination to distrust – to require people to prove themselves and earn his respect – didn’t derail his working relationships and, by extension, the performance of his team? How did he ensure he was fair to the people in his team?

This was something he hadn’t really considered before, but armed with the self-insight that he was frugal with his trust, he had a lightbulb moment.

He could see how his lack of trust defined his leadership style and how it might affect his team. He could also see he had the opportunity to manage this effect, particularly with new team members.

How you can manage your trust bias

This isn’t about trying to change who you are or how you lead your team. You don’t need to alter your natural inclination when it comes to trust. Whatever your attitude to trust, it isn’t ‘wrong’.

However, you can factor your predisposition to trust into your leadership style and relationships in a way that nurtures trust with and within your team. And, in doing so, you can nurture team effectiveness and performance.

Here’s what you need to consider:

  1. Self-insight. Where do you sit on the trust grid and the trust curve? Do you trust easily or reluctantly? Do you tend to doubt people’s capabilities, or their values and motivations? What does it take to build or destroy your trust? Be honest – there is no right or wrong.
  2. Be open. With your self-insight in mind, tell your team what you expect from them, and what they can expect from you. Explain what it takes to earn your trust and what you look for. Explain your leadership style and expectations, particularly with new team members.
  3. Create a dialogue. Now that you and your team are clear about how you think about trust, give the individuals in your team the opportunity to tell you if establishing trust and meeting your expectations is proving difficult. Set up a process or mechanism that enables you to have an ongoing dialogue about trust.

Read more about nurturing workplace trust and understanding your team’s predisposition to trust. Discover how self-insight and making yourself vulnerable can hold the key to strong leadership, wellbeing and team performance. Or contact us to learn more.

Anna Lane has worked for over 17 years as an organisational development consultant across several industries, in Australia and the UK. She has extensive experience of working with business leaders to drive sustainable improvements in team effectiveness, organisational effectiveness, strategic development, change management and project management.