The Other Side of Trust

 In Blog

The Other Side of Trust
By Justin Wright

There are three main categories which determine the likelihood of a team’s success: trust, communication, and shared values. If any one of these fails, it becomes difficult to overcome this failure. Imagine a glass with a crack running down the side; over time, that crack will continue to expand until that glass shatters. The same can be said of a team that lacks transparency and trust, has poor communication, or does not create a culture of shared values.

If we specifically analyze the importance of trust in the equation, I think we can all agree that it may be the most crucial of the three categories. If you do not trust the members of the team, or the team itself, to look after your best interests, it becomes impossible for you to achieve peak expression. The team will in turn lack flow, and thus be unable to contribute at the highest level to that team’s success.

When most people think about trust, they are referring to it in the standard sense: honesty, transparency, truthfulness, and the general sentiment that those we are interacting with have our best interests at heart. There is, however, another side to trust that must be properly analyzed when you are looking to build a winning team.

Trust is based on consistency

Trust, in this context, is developed when an individual’s actions consistently meet the expectations for those actions. If a coworker consistently meets deadlines and produces high-quality work, your trust in that individual with respect to those tasks increases. In turn, this increases your trust in that person in general. If someone is always meeting the bar we have set for them, then they become dependable. Dependable and reliable individuals are more likely to be trusted than someone who is hit-or-miss with their performances.

Think about people you currently trust in your life. They likely all share one thing in common: you highly respect them. Respect is earned through repetition, through proving your value to those around you. Respect brings with it a certain pedigree that is directly based off of previous actions. Having a positive track-record of success breeds confidence in your abilities and makes others more likely to respect, and subsequently trust, you to get the job done.

Even if we are simply speaking on a personal, and not professional, level, the way someone has acted in the past determines how we treat them in the future. If you have a friend who always blows you off, you will likely roll your eyes the next time they “promise to be there” for you. Thus far, none of this seems problematic. We are able to essentially sort people into buckets based on their reliability, and that influences our level of trusting those individuals with certain responsibilities. What happens, however, if you are consistently placing a teammate in a position that they are ill-suited for, or a position where they are destined to fail?

Strengths and weaknesses

Every individual has strengths and weaknesses; no one is good at everything and, likewise, no one is bad at everything. Finding the avenues in which we excel is a key component of finding long-term success in any pursuit. When the goal is maximizing work output, we should be focusing on maximizing our exposure to our strengths and minimizing our exposure to our weaknesses.

The concept of self-development is incredibly important, but in the pursuit of becoming better people it is also easy to put undue emphasis on our weaknesses. Working on weaknesses has its place, and our goal as humans should be to work on areas we tend to struggle with. When it comes to team performance, however, we are looking to optimize that team.

This requires us to triple-down on our strengths and to avoid our weaknesses like the plague. In sports, players have different roles on the team based on their position. A great quarterback in football has no place on the offensive line while a soccer goalie would likely struggle as a midfielder. This is specialization at its finest: you must optimize the team by placing the best people for a certain task in those specific roles.

Many problems at the team level can be solved by understanding this concept. How many businesses are putting people in positions they struggle with? How often does the standard hierarchy of leadership keep people who are strong managers with great interpersonal skills at the bottom of the totem pole, plugging away at monotonous work? It’s no wonder why many teams consistently fail.

Success breeds trust

When people are put in positions that they are best suited for, they are able to succeed at a higher rate. This success builds trust within that team which then strengthens the team as a whole. If everyone is placed in their best possible position, the members of that team will have confidence that the end result will be positive. This will continue to increase the trust amongst those team members exponentially.

With increased success comes increased trust and, as a direct result, the team is more willing to tackle larger challenges. The stress and stimulus required for growth is now in place, and as that team continues to tackle these challenges head-on, they will continue to progress and thrive. Everyone on the team will directly benefit from this growth.

The unfortunate reality is that the other side of the coin also applies. If team members are placed in positions that go against their strengths, that force them into positions to confront their weaknesses, then they are more likely to fail. These compounding failures erode the trust within the team. This in turn erodes the team cohesion and backs that team into a corner. They are less likely to take on challenges, they are less likely to grow, and they are less likely to ultimately succeed. All of this stems from mismanagement, from placing people in difficult situations and expecting them to rise to the challenge.

Self-development versus team-development

This mismanagement stems from a misunderstanding between self-development and team-development. If you are looking at improving an individual, then putting them in uncomfortable situations and forcing them to adapt is a useful tactic. When we are made uncomfortable, when we are forced to face our fears or confront our weaknesses, then we often grow as individuals. The problem is that as soon as others rely on us, as soon as we are placed in a collaborative environment, the same stress can cause us to crumble and cause the team to lose faith in our abilities.

It is often said that the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. We can apply this concept to a discussion of the individual versus the team. Positive stress promotes growth, and the classification of stress required for personal growth differs from that required for growth of the team.

A collective group is always stronger than an individual person, as long as that group is working as the most efficient version of itself. If people are placed in weak roles, the group is working against itself constantly. This breeds resentment and slows down forward progress. The stress in this case is negative, and the machine will break down. The goal of any team should be to reduce internal friction, to create flow. If everyone is positioned to succeed, and has the confidence to execute on the things they know well, then the whole unit will move seamlessly towards a common goal.

Strike a balance

I am not suggesting that you abandon self-development or avoid your weaknesses entirely. This practice is detrimental to becoming the best version of ourselves. What is important to understand, however, is that you must strike a balance on this front. When you are working with others towards a common goal, you must continue to specialize. Do what you are good at, and challenge others on your team to do what they are good at.

Find time in your life to work on yourself and work on areas that need improvement, but when it comes to success as a collective group then you must avoid your weaknesses at all costs. This requires some level of overcoming the ego, as oftentimes leaders are placed in roles for all the wrong reasons. Individuals should become leaders because they have strong management and communication skills, not because they have been there the longest or are skilled at one facet of the job.

Find ways to optimize your team by removing as much internal friction as possible. Set people up for success, because putting people in their strongest roles will build forward momentum and foster increased trust. Remember, after all, that trust is one of the most important criteria which determines a team’s likelihood of success!


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