Trust is important in all human relationships. This is especially true in business where we may not have personal trust-based relationships as we do with our close friends and family.  While we can all agree that it is important, we frequently define trust in different ways. The varying definitions of trust might impact the ability to be part of a high-performing team.

We often think of trust as knowing that the other person will follow through when they say they will do something. How frequently have you been disappointed when someone did not follow through and complete what they had committed to? Often our internal monologue in those situations is “I can’t trust them to follow through.”

But even if we know a person will follow through on a task, we still might not fully trust them and may be wary of their intent.  Do you know people with whom you:

  • Have to be careful what you say
  • Have to be careful how much you share
  • Can’t let them see you struggle
  • Can’t ask for help since it may be seen as weakness
  • Don’t bring up concerns or ideas because it will become personal

Think of the added effort that you have to put into work when:

  • People spend time playing politics since we can’t trust people’s intentions and need to always be trying to gain position
  • We can’t challenge ideas without things getting personal
  • People don’t raise ideas for fear of having them shot down by others
  • Meetings can become either silent or a free-for all

While an understanding of trust based on follow-through might be a critical first step, there is a deeper level of trust that is foundational to enabling higher possibilities to your team: vulnerability based trust – the idea that you can believe in everyone’s best intentions on a team.  When people value each other and can be vulnerable and open with the team, everyone can help and give their unguarded best.

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Have you ever had the opportunity to be on a team where you could be vulnerable, understood and listened to?  In working with many groups over the years, when we ask for those examples, people recall them fondly and are excited about those memories.  Unfortunately, most people don’t find these teams to be as frequent as they would like.

Typically, when people discuss many of the teams they have been on, we hear comments like these:

  • “You had to be careful about what you say to people here”
  • “People are looking out for their own needs, not what is best for the group”
  • “It is about who’s position wins”
  • “Bringing up ideas, just makes you a target”
  • “People play favorites on our team”
  • “It is easier to keep your head down and stay out of the fray”
  • “People on this team don’t care about each other as people“
  • “The politics here impact what we can really do”

Those thoughts on a team keep us from being able to be our best as individuals, and keep the team from becoming cohesive and achieving the results it is truly capable of.

Amazing things can happen when we can be vulnerable and authentic with each other.  It is through this interaction that we can move from being a group that reports to the same individual to a true team.  This idea is not limited to teams at a specific level in an organization, it can impact teams from the floor level to the executive suite.

Think about the best team experience you have ever had. The team you have in mind probably had great results, but it also probably had some other characteristics.  Many people we talk with bring up the people from that team, the feeling of being part of a team, the growth and sense of accomplishment that they felt. Many people think of a time they played sports, a band or orchestra, a school club.  It is a great shame that more of us don’t point to the work teams we are on as frequently.

So how do we go about cultivating a culture with a team that invites vulnerability based trust? We first need to be intentional around learning about, and honoring, one another. It then becomes the responsibility of everyone on the team to identify when they are taking actions that make the environment less safe for people to take the risk of sharing. This may be difficult for people to do, at least to start, yet if we can decide it is worth the work and are willing to give one another grace and apologize when we forget, then we can make the improvements we need to begin developing vulnerability based trust and work towards becoming a truly cohesive team.


Evans Kerrigan

Evans Kerrigan works tirelessly in both corporate and public sectors as a dynamic business consultant, presenter, and coach. With over 30 years of experience working with multi-national organizations such as Cisco, Sun Blue Cross Blue Shield, BP, State of Arizona and King County Washington, Evans has been at the forefront of change management--building healthy organizations and creating great places to work. His contributions to these organizations have been credited with increasing employee engagement scores, dramatic reductions in costs and improvement in efficiencies and revenue, resulting in improved operational excellence.