Why trust is the foundation of success

Teams can exist in many formats, but successful teams can only truly exist where there is trust.

The Case for Trust

When there is real trust within a team, our brains operate in a completely different way to when there is low trust.

In low trust teams, fear is a constant and as humans, and unless your teams goal is to out run the sabre toothed tiger, you probably won't be working in your optimal state. In times of fear our bodies are blooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone. This is highly effective when you are in real danger and need to preserve your life. You will be operating from your amygdala, where short term, tactical, instant decisions are formed. You will look to preserve yourself first and think about your own needs. This is the opposite of team, yet the prevalent behaviours in many teams.

In teams with high trust, the executive brain kicks in and neural connections work to open up the brains creativity, strategic thinking, compassion, empathy, planning, logic and reasoning. In high trust teams, our brains are stimulated with oxytocin, which is the connection hormone, which further embeds teamwork.

When teams perform and succeed, everyone feels rewarded and dopamine rules, meaning everyone wants to do it again. Success drives success.

So the case for trust is pretty compelling. But what does it look like?

  • Members openly share their strengths and weaknesses
  • Members feel as easy congratulating someone as much as holding them to account
  • Members freely own up to their mistakes or failures without fear of blame or judgement
  • Members trust that they each have each others best interests at heart
  • Members understand each other and appreciate and value each others contributions
  • Members can work together openly, freely and with creativity to find solutions
  • Members feel at ease with each other.

How great leaders build trust


The leader role models trust.

It won't happen overnight but if the leader is open, honest and acts with authenticity and integrity, others will feel safe to do so too. The leader must create a safe space where their people feel psychologically safe enough to speak up, try new things, fail fast and fail forward and take risks. 


Spell it out.

It's no good just saying "Trust is our core value", you need to communicate what trust looks like. Create meaningful and real language statements so people understand what trust is. So you might say, "Trust is speaking up", "Trust is saying I am sorry", "We build trust through open, candid communication", "Trust means I know my colleagues will do the right thing". Whatever it means to you, make it clear.


Celebrate it when it's done

When people lie, hold back or put their own interests first, call them out on it, name it, but remember to do it kindly. They may not be as trusting as you, but it still needs to be discussed. Ask them what you can do to build more trust. Equally, when someone demonstrates trust, celebrate it, praise them or encourage it. Get comfortable with having those honest conversations as that's exactly where trust grows.


Note About TRUST

Even if trust is an aspirational value, you can make it a reality with a plan, and making it a strategic choice. 

Watch Simon Sinek talk about trust in teams