Trust is a matter of huge importance in a healthy team, project, or organization. But when it comes to the issue of trust and its relationship to teamwork, most people get it backwards. They see trust as being necessary for good teamwork – as something that must be in place before a group can work together and communicate well.
Which Comes First: Trust or Conversational Capacity?
As I point out in Conversational Capacity, seeing trust as a precondition for good teamwork puts us in a classic catch-22: “Trust isn’t like pizza, something we can just order in when we feel like it. So if it’s the key to high conversational capacity, and our capacity is low, we face a conundrum; we need high trust to build our conversational capacity, but we can’t build our conversational capacity with low trust. We’re stuck.”
The problem is that viewing trust as the cause of good teamwork puts the cart before the horse. Trust isn’t a prerequisite for effective conversations and teamwork; it’s the product of effective conversations and teamwork. Again, from my book: “If you could learn to work together in more effective and trustworthy ways, you could simultaneously solve some of your problems and start building back the trust,” I tell teams. If trust is the product of how a team interacts with each other, then it’s by building more trustworthy relationships that we generate higher trust.
So Then, How Do We Start Building Trust?
In order to build team trust, we need to develop the discipline to work in the “sweet spot” – that productive place where candor and curiosity are in balance, and the conversations are open-minded, even-handed, evidence-based, and learning-focused. We must strive to run meetings, make decisions, provide feedback, solve problems, and manage change in ways that are driven by a genuine desire to expand and improve our thinking rather than by a self-serving need to inflate our egos.
If we want to build more trust, in other words, we need to build our conversational capacity.