Unpacking Trust

Trust in Teams

Trust in teams is at the base of every model for high performance team work ever created. The challenge is that we often don’t focus on trust as a necessary outcome in the ways we work together It takes more than a “trust fall” exercise to build trust to effectively close a quarter, make a tough decision, believe in the data offered or ask for help when you need it. We’ve seen teams effectively use the trust wheels in a few ways. Below are some exercises and approaches we’ve known to be effective, as well as a video modeling how to build trust. 


Team leader or other facilitator asks the members of the team to rate how they see the team in each of the 10 trust traits. The team members give it their best shot. The facilitator then asks each person what number they selected and compiles the overall score. The facilitator then divides by the number of people on the team. This gives us an average and a way to look at where we see ourselves as a whole. Where are we strong? Where are there lower scores? 

The next step is to create simple action plans to build strong trust in each trust trait. This is from a team perspective. If a score appears to be dragged down by two team members who have low trust with each other, it is fair for the team to ask those two to do the individual trust work with each other and report back to the team on their progress.


Each team is given time to reflect on team trust in the ten trust traits. As they do so, they are asked to write down and offer one idea they have for building trust in each trait. Put these ideas on post-it notes. As the entire team reports out, each person puts their post-its on a wall. When all ideas are up, use the affinity process to group the similar ideas, discuss and then prioritize. Then select the top one, two or three ideas and put them into actionable language with a timeline to measure and report progress.


If safety in communication is strong, each person on the team picks the two to three traits where they see the greatest opportunity to build trust. They then say what they see as “Working”, “Not Working” and “Missing” in the traits they chose. This is followed by the recommendation they have for building trust in these traits. Everyone gets an opportunity to share and the team then decides on the actions they believe they should take to build team trust in a selected time frame. 


In this approach, we go back to the method we used in building trust with individuals, one step at a time. The goal is to have each person on the team eventually pair up with every other person on the team and run the trust wheels exercise with each other. This approach can take place over the course of a few months depending on the size of the team.

Once the entire team has met with every other member of the team including the team leader, each pair of teammates reports out at least one action step they will take with each other to build trust. This then becomes a self-managed accountability process.

All four of these approaches have worked well for various teams. Dispersed teams have often waited for the times or one time they get together each year. We have seen teams do this trust building work using technologies like Skype, Google Hangout and Zoom as well. We have found there is no “best way” to build team trust.