Contributed Column

The Manager’s Corner

by Emily Morrow

Teams and working at the speed of trust

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey posits that trust is not just a soft, social virtue but is, in fact, a hard–edged economic driver. It’s a skill that individuals and groups can learn from, perfect, and incorporate into how they work together to become more profitable, collaborative, and competitive. In other words, if people work in high-trust teams, not only will their lives be more pleasant, but their businesses will also be more efficient and profitable.

When a team operates at the speed of trust, things get done quickly and accurately, there is less “friction,” morale and retention rates are higher, and people have the information they need to do their jobs. Once one has worked at the speed of trust, believe me, there is no going back.

Teams that work at the speed of trust are those in which every team member has consistently high-trust, professional relationships with every other team member. If even one relationship in the team is low trust, it will “infect” all of the other relationships and the team as a whole.

Individual high-trust professional relationships are based upon the following.

Interaction. The type of interaction that creates high-trust professional relationships is that which occurs appropriately and frequently and is of high quality. The team needs to invest ongoing time and energy to build high-trust professional relationships. The occasional team retreat, meeting, or lengthy discussion may be admirable, but it alone will suffice.

Disclosure. An excellent way to erode trust is to fail to share critical information with someone who is then surprised (often unpleasantly) to learn this information indirectly. Conversely, if team members and, in particular, the team leader, share appropriate information with others and explain how the information impacts them, the team will be building high-trust relationships.

Flexibility. Flexibility that contributes to high trust means acknowledging that things can be accomplished in various ways, and being open-minded without compromising excellence. It’s particularly important for the team leader to be flexible; inflexible leaders stifle creativity, intelligence, and responsibility and often produce low-functioning, anxious team members.

Consistency over time. If you have children and/or pets, you will know it’s critically important to be consistent in raising them. If they are greeted with love and support on one occasion and later inexplicably experience anger and rejection, they may develop low levels of trust with others. Adults are much the same. It’s important to be consistently consistent in your relationships with other people and to do so over time.

Good intentions. Interaction, disclosure, flexibility, and consistency will not alone build a high-trust professional relationship unless team members have good intentions in their interactions with one another. Merely paying lip service to good intentions is insufficient, especially if your actions are at odds with what you say. If that occurs, you will be perceived as a hypocrite. Hypocrisy and high trust are at opposite ends of the same spectrum.

Trust can be destroyed quickly and abruptly. Probably all of us have experienced this in a professional or personal context. Conversely, building a high-trust relationship usually occurs slowly and incrementally; it is cumulative and iterative. When building high-trust relationships, excellent communication, collaboration, and friction-free work experiences will, with practice and focus, increase over time.

How would you rate your team on the above elements of high-trust professional relationship building? If you perceive any deficiencies, think about what behaviors you or others will need to change, start making changes, and then carefully watch what happens. You will know when the team begins to work at the speed of trust; it will, simultaneously, be both quite subtle and extraordinarily obvious. •

Emily Morrow ( of Shelburne and Auckland, New Zealand, provides tailored consulting services to business owners, professional practice firms, executives, and HR personnel.

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