As a leadership and business coach, I often find myself in the presence of leaders or leadership teams grappling with daunting challenges, seeking ways to overcome or navigate around them. It is in these pivotal moments that I recognise the critical factor we must unpack and evaluate: trust; and the impact of absence of trust.
Trust is the invisible force that underpins the very essence of leadership and it’s the bedrock upon which high-performing teams are built, decisions are made, and progress is achieved. In my countless coaching conversations with leaders, this topic invariably emerges, demanding our attention and exploration.
Because trust holds the power to make or break a leader’s journey and significantly impact their ability to support their team’s ambitions.
Trust has the ability to forge unbreakable bonds, empowering teams to surmount seemingly insurmountable challenges and unlock their untapped potential.
However, when trust falters, it can erode collaboration, breed scepticism, and leave behind a trail of shattered aspirations.
Pioneering organisational scholars first delved into this area in the 1960s, and since then, it has experienced a resurgence, led by notable figures such as Amy Edmonson in her seminal works “Teaming” and “The Fearless Organization,” and Charles Feltman’s exploration of building trusting teams. These works unequivocally demonstrate that trust serves as the lifeblood and foundation of effective teamwork and leadership. In fact, Google’s Project Aristotle revealed that high-performing teams cannot exist without trust, as it forms the very bedrock for collaboration, open communication, and innovation within a team.
While we may intellectually grasp the importance of psychological safety in teams, it is vital to recognise that trust cannot be approached as a “set and forget” aspect of your leadership or organisational structures. It is something that requires conscious and deliberate development, sustenance, and at times, repair within your relationships, teams, organisations, or communities.
Now, let’s examine some of the detrimental effects and impacts resulting from the absence of trust within a team. We will shed light on crucial areas leaders must be aware of when pinpointing the root causes of trust issues within their organisations.
It’s time to check your team trust barometer. Are you experiencing any of the following within your team?
- Lack of collaboration and support between team members
- Friction, unresolved conflict and triangle conversations (gossip)
- Lack of innovation and experimentation
- Low to no feedback (giving or asking for feedback)
- Misunderstandings or blame
- Lack of support
- Low confidence or indecisiveness
- Low team morale
Let’s take a moment to explore the effects and behaviours that emerge when a lack of trust permeates a team.
Friction, unresolved conflict and ‘polite nodding’
Conflict is a natural part of any relationship or team’s journey. However, without trust, conflicts can escalate and become more destructive. Team members may avoid addressing issues, nod in agreement when they don’t genuinely agree with the decision or engage in passive-aggressive behaviours, leading to a toxic atmosphere. The absence of trust prevents healthy conflict resolution and inhibits the team’s ability to find meaningful solutions.
Lack of innovation and experimentation
Much has been written about the need for psychological safety in our current environment as trust is a catalyst for innovation and creativity. If you are a knowledge worker, you work in an environment that is ambiguous, complex and fast-moving. The problems we face today and solutions we are creating for our customers are probably ones we’ve never faced before. Without trust, team members feel hesitant to propose new ideas or challenge the status quo. The fear of rejection or ridicule suppresses creativity and stifles the team’s ability to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing environment. Without trust, organisations risk becoming stagnant and falling behind their competitors.
Lack of feedback (giving or asking for feedback)
When trust is lacking, team members hesitate to provide or seek feedback. Without trust people fear judgement, criticism, or repercussions, which stifle growth and improvement. And when a team or organisation doesn’t nurture an environment where regular feedback is given and pro-actively sought then valuable insights and suggestions go unshared, and individuals miss out on opportunities to learn and develop professionally.
Misunderstandings and blame
In the absence of trust, team members tend to make negative assumptions about each other’s intentions and actions rather than assuming positive intent. This leads to misunderstandings, strained relationships, and a toxic work environment. People are also more likely to focus on protecting themselves rather than working together towards shared goals, impacting collaboration. You may even see a high incidence of blaming, finger-pointing within the team or at its worst, ‘white-anting’ – subversively undermining others.
Lack of support
Trust is essential for creating a supportive team dynamic. Without it, team members are hesitant to offer help or seek assistance when needed. They may feel isolated and unsupported, resulting in decreased morale and motivation. The absence of a supportive environment hampers productivity and hinders individual and collective success.
Low self-confidence and indecision
In an environment devoid of trust, team members lack confidence in themselves and their colleagues. They may second-guess their abilities, doubt their decisions, and hesitate to take risks. This fear of failure stifles creativity and innovation, hindering progress and limiting the team’s potential for growth.
Erosion of team morale
Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of the absence of trust is the erosion of team morale. The absence of trust saps the energy and enthusiasm necessary for a team to achieve its goals. Individuals may feel disengaged, undervalued, and demotivated. High turnover rates, decreased productivity, and a general sense of dissatisfaction become prevalent.
As a leader and an employee, you have probably worked within an organisation or for a leader that showed low levels of trust in you/ the team. You might have experienced first-hand the far-reaching consequences that undermine how you feel, how you perform and your individual growth.
As a leader, it is crucial to recognise the detrimental impact of trust deficits and proactively work to build and maintain trust within your team. By fostering a culture of open communication, encouraging feedback, resolving conflicts, promoting collaboration, and recognising and valuing individual contributions, leaders can create an environment where trust thrives.
Remember, trust is not a ‘nice-to-have’; it is the foundation element that fuels exceptional individual performance, healthy teamwork and long-term organisational success.
Improve Trust & Leadership Skills
Trust-building has a pivotal role in effective leadership. As a specialist in leadership development, I offer comprehensive coaching programs tailored to your unique needs, giving you invaluable insights and practical techniques to cultivate trust, foster collaboration, and establish a thriving environment of high-performance in your business or organisation.
Or get instant access to actionable strategies to build trust in your team right now, check out our on-demand course: Team Trust Foundations: Master the Art of Building Trust for Leaders and Managers