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How Leadership Can Develop Trust Among Teams

I bought some new socks recently; they are walking socks. In the past, I have bought socks that do the job well enough, and I have been reasonably happy with the results. The only thing is when my feet get wet and cold, they are not so good. So I decided to invest in the best waterproof warm socks that money can buy, they cost £45. That is £45 for one pair of socks. As a Yorkshire man, I can tell you there was an internal fight separating with £45 for one pair of socks, but they have been life-changing.

How leadership can develop trust among teams is a bit similar to my pair of socks. We can have a pair that does the job, or we can count the cost and invest in a high performing pair. We can have minimal trust that does the job, it is functional, and we produce results, or we can count the cost and invest in high levels of trust that is life-changing and produces genuinely outstanding outcomes. In my experience, it does seem that most people prefer not to pay for expensive socks.

The Benefits of Trust and Detriments of Mistrust

Let’s first look at the benefits of trust. The Harvard Business Review report by Paul J. Zak, “The Neuroscience of Trust”, states that when comparing people from low trust companies, people from high trust companies report:

74% less stress

106% more energy at work

50% higher productivity

13% fewer sick days

76% more engagement

29% more satisfaction with their lives

40% less burnout

60% enjoyed their jobs more

70% more aligned with their company’s purpose

66% felt closer to their colleagues

41% felt a greater sense of accomplishment

Those are outcomes that all organisations would want, especially when compared to the detrimental effects of mistrust. Where there is mistrust, there is a lack of truth, hiding and politicising. Where there is mistrust, people walk on eggshells with each other, communication is difficult, there is little benefit of the doubt given, and feedback can be taken as judgemental. This describes an organisation and systems that are distracted from their outcomes and emotionally impotent to reach courageous goals.

What is The Cost of Building Trust?

In a nutshell, vulnerability. We find vulnerability difficult because it exposes us emotionally and is usually uncomfortable. It has a certain amount of risk and uncertainty that allows others the opportunity to take advantage or gain knowledge that could hurt or damage us in some way.

That is the cost most people avoid when thinking about how leadership can develop trust among teams.

Vulnerability requires a step of faith that the other person can be trusted. This level of trust goes beyond trusting that someone will do what they say they will do to a far deeper human connection that says I trust your intentions and the actions that will follow. I trust you enough to expose my genuine emotions, feelings, motives and intentions. I trust you to give me feedback in areas that I find most sensitive and complex. I trust you when you hold me to account. I trust you enough to tell you precisely what is going on. I trust you not to take advantage or be motivated by self-interest.

If we want to create high trust environments that deliver the returns, well-being and outcomes that only trust can provide, then vulnerability is front and central in that process. The emotional cost of vulnerability is the reason why some organisations choose to settle for functional levels of trust at best and micro-managing monitoring at worst.

Building Trust

How leadership can develop trust among teams is by intentionally focusing on vulnerability. Here are some trust exercises that focus on allowing team members to be vulnerable.

  1. Ask each person, in turn, to share with everyone else where they were born, how many siblings they have, which school they went to, and a challenge that they faced growing up.

  2. Either with a piece of paper or using a virtual whiteboard or similar, choose someone, to begin with; this should be the leader. Then ask everyone else to write on one side of the paper or whiteboard what the individual brings to the team that benefits the team. On the other side, what the individual brings to the team is detrimental to the team. Then, the person who is the subject of the feedback responds. The group moves on to another person, and the exercise is repeated.

Many other exercises can occur, and trust can form part of a standing agenda item in meetings and 1:1’s. Developing a coaching leadership style also builds relationships and high trust environments.

These exercises are best introduced with the assistance of an external facilitator following on from training about building high levels of trust in teams.

Contact Us Today To Uncover How Leadership Can Develop Trust Among Teams

We at ‘The Leadership Coaches’ have expertise and a wide range of experience in developing trust in teams, and now increasingly with hybrid teams. We have developed coaching cultures and coaching styles with leaders in organisations that have developed trusted ways of working, showing a high return on investment.

This leaves us with the following reflection: How leadership can develop trust among teams depends on the socks you want to buy and the cost you are willing to pay.

What sort of socks do you everyday wear in your organisation, and what could be the benefits of investing in the best socks on the market?

Please get in touch to find out more.


“The Trusted Executive” by John Blakey

“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni

“Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown

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