“Living the Dream” – The Role of Trust in a Functional Team

by compasspartnership

“Living the Dream” – The Role of Trust in a Functional Team

by compasspartnership

by compasspartnership

Take a moment to think about “your dream job” as you envisioned it many years ago.

Time marched on and you grew. Your priorities changed, realism set in and a career path was planned or presented itself. Maybe your plans changed, or maybe you ended up in the place you imagined at age 6.

When you consider your job now, are you happy? What do you value? What makes you want to go to work in the morning, and what makes you want to stay? Do you feel that you belong and that you can be yourself? Does your “inner 6-year-old self” feel that they are in the right spot in life and the workplace?

Studies suggest that our workplace happiness and satisfaction is linked strongly to feelings of trust in leadership.

In a Gallup study of 10,000 people in “follower” job roles between 2005 and 2008, they identified four key elements that impact upon employees: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. Gallup’s findings suggest that when followers trust their leaders, one in two are engaged. When followers don’t find leaders trustworthy, only one in 12 are engaged at work.

Trust and Psychological Safety: The Root of Great Team Performance

When we look at how teams and workplaces can go drastically wrong, we see that the job at hand or our chosen career path is rarely the problem. We may have several careers in our lifetimes and fulfill many different roles in the workplace.

Leaders can establish an environment of trust or distrust in their workplaces by modelling company values and ideals.

Employees in “follower” roles engage in work when they are in an environment where psychological safety is built into the culture. Employees disengage when leadership and the company’s “operational compass” is inconsistent, lacks integrity, or lacks emotional awareness.

Psychological Safety (PS) is the foundation of trust within great team performance. It is the ability of an organisation to foster an environment where employees are free to express themselves without fear. Information and ideas flow freely because of this lack of fear. It underpins innovation and ideation, problem solving and performance.[1]

Trust is an investment – don’t underestimate its value

A lack of organisational transparency and integrity has real financial consequences.

In Tony Simons’ 2008 book, “The Integrity Dividend”, he details the financial value of trust.

In a study of 76 US and Canadian hotels, employees were asked to rate (on a five-point scale) how closely their managers’ words and actions were aligned – markers of behavioral integrity. Findings indicated that “one-eighth point improvement in a hotel’s score on the five-point scale could be expected to increase the hotel’s profitability by 2.5% of revenues—in this study, that translates to a profit increase of more than $250,000 per year per hotel. No other single aspect of manager behavior that we measured had as large an impact on profits.”[2]

Behavioural integrity benefits the company’s bottom line, the leader, and those in follower roles. But how do we get there? How do we rebuild and recover trust in an organisation?

Don’t be “The Leader Who Cried Wolf”

Don’t be the leader who predictably and consistently backs out of commitments and promises. Mean what you say and practice it. Show that you live your values on a personal level. Model the behaviours you expect from others.

Trust within a leader/follower relationship is a series of promises kept over time. Build a reputation of personal and organisational integrity by taking responsibility for mistakes and working to correct them.

Don’t be the only voice – encourage dissent

“(Groupthink is).. a rationalized conformity – an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.”[3]

In a team where Groupthink has taken hold, the focus shifts ‘from finding the right answer’ to ‘consensus at all costs’.

In a collaborative environment, leaders and followers alike are open to new ideas. New and unique voices are encouraged and valued. Build a collaborative environment by asking questions, guiding, and mentoring those on your team.

Colleagues can also help to encourage collaboration and differing ideas by engaging in good listening behaviours, such as:

  • Asking constructive questions
  • Supportive commentary to build self-esteem
  • Cooperative conversation
  • Making supportive suggestions[4]

Don’t neglect relationship building in remote work

If your office environment has changed substantially in 2020, you are not alone! As remote work becomes ever more prevalent, we have found building relationships and trust more challenging. Curiosity, compassion, and interest go a long way towards maintaining a link when in-person communication is not possible. As a leader, build relationships in challenging times by pairing coworkers engaged in similar tasks and with frequent check-ins. These don’t necessarily have to be all business – connection is about storytelling and sharing.

Your “inner 6-year-old self” may have had slightly different dreams, but some needs remain the same – trust, compassion, stability, and hope are crucial to people. By engaging in trust building activities as leaders and demanding authenticity as followers, organisations and people benefit.

A Trust-building Exercise – Sharing Fears

This works in a virtual setting as well as in person. It is suitable for teams of up to eight.

Employees don’t speak up because they are concerned about the cost of doing so; of being treated unfairly, of being classed as ‘difficult’. Fear is an inbuilt feature within the brain and is triggered by threat cues. When employees feel threatened, they’ll keep quiet and will unhappily resign themselves to whatever will happen to them. This trust-building exercise breaks down barriers, creates shared understanding and the momentum to work through rational or irrational fears.

Pre-work – less than 5 minutes

Ask each team member to think of a key fear related to their role or the team in general. This should be sent to the team leader and used as a basis for discussion in the team.

In the team session: Allow 20 minutes to discuss 2 fears

When the fear is shared in the team, the team member owns the fear and shares the context. Then, the rest of the team discusses this and supports the team member with ideas, suggestions and positive encouragement. The idea is to allay the fear (whether it’s a rational or irrational belief), or to create action.


You can decide how much you want to be a part of this stage, depending upon the maturity of your team in facilitating their own meetings and development sessions. Actions and resolutions are then built into the team ways of working, ground rules or future development activity, as decided by the team. Buddy work may also help.

At Compass Partnership, we engage with clients to support trust-building and organisational change. Get in touch to develop your plan to build a more open and psychologically safe workplace.

[1] Edgar H. Schein and Warren G. Bennis, “Personal and Organizational Change Through Group Methods: The Laboratory Approach”, 1965

[2] Tony Simons, “The Integrity Dividend in hospitality leadership”, Cornell University, 2011

[3] Whyte, W. H., Jr., “Groupthink“, Fortune, March 1952.

[4] Zenger/Folkman, “What Great Listeners Actually Do”, Harvard Business Review, July 2016