Leadership in Action – How Much Trust Exists in Your Team?

man talking in the meeting

Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, provides a good framework to look at how effective your team is. For the next five posts, we will examine the positive side to these dysfunctions and ways to develop your team’s effectiveness.


The foundational characteristic of an effective team is Trust. It’s the capacity to count on each other and to have each other’s back. There are four key characteristics to this type of trust. To build these characteristics in your team, you not only need to role model them, but you need to reduce the risk team members take when they adopt them.


Being truly vulnerable to your fellow team members means there is an absence of pretense or positioning. There are no hidden agendas nor any “meetings before the meeting.” In many organizations, being truly vulnerable is a risk, as it can create opportunities for others to take advantage. As a leader, role modeling that it is ok to not know something, or to ask for help, is a great start. When others start to demonstrate vulnerability, you provide positive reinforcement by first labeling the behavior. Then you go on to explain why it is helpful for the team to have real conversations, thereby solving problems quicker and more effectively. In the same way, if you see anyone undermining another team member, based on them being vulnerable, you want to address that behavior as “out of bounds” for the team. This correction does not need to be mean spirited, just clear and concise that it is out of bounds.


In a team where you can be vulnerable, your team members are less likely to become defensive about their potential mistakes. This helps build a true growth mindset, that we are a culture of learning versus a culture of knowing. A culture of knowing only leads to arrogance and missed opportunities. As a leader, how you handle mistakes in your team is one of the most impactful interactions you can have. While some mistakes are too large and too career limiting to accept, most mistakes are not that critical and can be used as learning opportunities. The key response from you, as a leader, is “How will you handle a similar situation the next time?” Your job is to help them create forethought around learning from that mistake.


In a team where it is OK to make mistakes, it is easier to put forth ideas that may not work.  There is a shared belief that it takes 100 ideas for a single good one to emerge. If your team members are editing themselves to only say what they believe is that one good idea, you are missing opportunities. As a leader following the brainstorming rules – that there are no bad ideas – gathering as many ideas as we can is a good start. From there, review each idea in terms of the assumptions that challenge the status quo. Are there other ways we could challenge these assumptions? In this way, you are building on the ideas, even if they are not immediately appropriate. This creates a team norm of possibility thinking through the challenging of assumptions.


The above three characteristics look at the contribution of team members when there is Trust.  The final characteristic is how team members support each other, when they are vulnerable and accepting of their mistakes. This is the ability to see the positive intention in fellow team members, giving them the benefit of the doubt. This is holding the team members with Regard. This does not mean they are not accountable for their behavior and performance. It’s about treating each team member with dignity because they are working toward the same end. In other words, having your team member’s back. While they may not be perfect, we support them and their efforts. As a leader, when we support the individual and hold them accountable for their behavior, we role model what Regard looks like.


As you develop trust in your team, you are creating a healthy level of interdependence and  Energizing Action.