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Trust in Teams

Also see these two case studies illustrating how important trust is for productive teams and as an element of successful leadership.

A Question of Trust
Take it on Trust

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:

  1. Competence
  2. Compatibility
  3. Benevolence
  4. Integrity
  5. Predictability
  1. Security
  2. Inclusion
  3. Open with Information
  4. Accessible
  5. Reciprocal

The International Team Trust Indicator
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 trust deficits:

  • 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

An extract from a report showing the trust gap against the ten criteria

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 questionnaires

You can download a sample ITTI report in pdf (shortened) here. ITTI Sample Report


Benefits
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 members
  • 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 team
  • 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'

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