On-demand Webinar

Trust unleashed: The secret to high-performing teams

July 8, 2024

Teams thrive when built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect. The rise of remote and hybrid work has accelerated the need to establish and build trust. Leaders can no longer rely on in-person interactions to fix distrust. 

Compelling evidence underscores trust's influence on team dynamics, productivity, and organizational success. Recently, Greg Miley, VP of Growth at Desana, talked with AJ Thomas who brings boundless enthusiasm, vast experience in executive roles, and a passion for fostering talent and leadership.

In our 30-minute webinar, they discussed trust, collaboration, and building high-performance teams. AJ’s approach to fostering trust is grounded in ensuring clear and effective communication. One of our webinar highlights is when she likened the process to a "Beyonce lifestyle," where consistent messaging, despite being established years ago, remains relevant and impactful.

We’ve shared the key insights from the webinar below, but you can also access the on-demand recording:

The importance of trust in team building

Trust is not a buzzword; it's a fundamental building block for any successful team. It allows team members to communicate openly, collaborate effectively and commit to shared goals. However, as AJ pointed out, achieving this trust requires intentional efforts and an understanding of the underlying factors that contribute to it.

One of AJ’s favorite quotes is by Under Armour’s CEO, Kevin Plank, who said that:

“Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets”

The intent has to be around purposefully collecting the drops, and mindfully plugging the holes. As AJ pointed out:

“If you're losing trust in buckets, where are those buckets? What does that look like? And then how do you create a system by which you then reuse whatever is happening there and you build it back into your organization?”

Valuable insights were also shared on building trust across different teams and departments and that without a strong internal community, which you can also read as a positive culture, there can be no trust.

The architecture of trust

AJ emphasized that trust should be treated as an architecture, akin to a technology infrastructure within organizations. She compared it to a layered approach:

  1. Operating System Layer -  Vision, mission, and values of the organization.
  2. Application Layer - Teams and their functions.
  3. Features Layer - OKRs, goals, and targets.

By addressing trust at a foundational level, businesses can better align their workflows and communication strategies. It's helpful to think of trust in layers to solve the issues at the right level. For example, in most low-trust organizations, people tend to 'debug' at the feature level. They also spend too much time on corrective action at the application layer.

Organizations need to return to their operating system. They need to ask themselves one clear question:

“What are we optimizing for?”

This stops the behavior of knee-jerk reaction against the goal or the team. Instead, it's often that the team wasn't aligned to the mission well enough to allow them to make informed decisions or collaborate well. Again, using this framework helps teams understand trust. It helps them create a shared language and understanding. Then, conversations can happen the right way, and 'debugging' can be effective.

This ultimately helps companies avoid wasting money and time on programs and learning events that either miss the mark or are solely impressive without any meaningful follow-up or follow-through. This is one of the ways that we can start to think about trust from a cultural perspective. 

The final outcome of understanding cultural architecture is productivity. For a deep, rather than superficially focused culture, all team members live the vision, mission, and values. This creates a united team and delivers better outcomes.

The trust equation

One of the concepts AJ introduced was the trust equation. This formula, originally developed by David Maister in the Trusted Advisor, provides a practical framework for diagnosing and improving trust within teams.

The trust equation is: T = (C + R + I) / S

With the four core components being:

  • Credibility (C) - Is the person who they say they are?
  • Reliability (R) - Do they do what they say they will?
  • Intimacy (I) - Will this person be a guardian of what you shared?
  • Self orientation (S) - Do they prioritize agenda free engagement?

We all know credibility. But, what's interesting is that it’s combined with reliability. Do they show up? Can I depend on them? Many of us have leaders or colleagues who are credible but unreliable which slowly erodes our trust. The final addition is intimacy, which is about rapport. This can be challenging to create in an online or hybrid environment. It's important to design moments to develop rapport over a consistent laser focus on the business agenda.

S is about self orientation, which is perhaps a little abstract for those unfamiliar with the equation. These elements are divided by Self-Orientation (S), which reflects whether an individual's actions are self-serving or genuinely geared towards the team's interest. AJ provided more context explaining that:

“What I love about this is that you can check all of the boxes and the levels could be super high on credibility, reliability, and intimacy,  but the person's always going to be looking at you to say, okay, but…
Are they coming at me with their own agenda?  Or are they really interested and curious in engaging with me, by which that self orientation is very low.  And I can actually feel like I can be a part of the conversation versus just being told something. Are they really interested in engaging with me so that I can be part of this thing? Or is this really just for their agenda?”

It’s fundamentally hard to trust someone who is engaging you solely on their own agenda rather than because they want to build something great with you on a deeply aligned mission. 

Implementing the trust equation begins at the individual level. AJ recommends asking

"How might you have this analysis of where you think you are on this trust equation with a specific team member?" By assessing and addressing trust factors on a one-on-one basis, teams can gradually build a culture of trust that scales up to the entire organization. AJ carefully framed how not to apply the trust equation, so not returning to work and blanket posting it in Slack channels. Organizations should instead “develop it as a shared language”. 

Collaboration happens at the speed of trust and impact happens at the speed of collaboration

The pandemic compounded the need for trust in the workplace and technology is powering the acceleration. As companies navigate new work models and policies trust becomes non-negotiable. AJ remarked, 

"Trust is especially important when there are things that are unclear and things that are gray." 

Leaders must create architectures of trust that encompass clear communication, shared goals, and inclusive systems to navigate this new landscape effectively. Practically, this means thinking about how teams work, creating policies that enable trust and providing systems that enable clear communication and goal transparency across time zones and within an async environment.

One of the key takeaways from our discussion was AJ's powerful statement: "Collaboration happens at the speed of trust, and impact happens at the speed of collaboration." This encapsulates the essence of how trust drives organizational success. Without trust, collaboration falters, and without effective collaboration, impactful outcomes remain elusive. 

This is tied to how AJ talks about active inclusion and listening to the dissenting voice that does not agree. Organizations, to create high-performing teams, need to create a system where employees can tell the truth without blame or judgment and be received with compassion. This helps build proactive engagement and conversations. 

Trust is not just a theoretical concept. AJ shared a number of  practical, actionable frameworks that enhance collaboration and drive impact across global organizations. By understanding and implementing the trust equation, understanding the trust hierarchy, engaging in meaningful real-time interactions and fostering inclusive environments, leaders can navigate the complexities of the modern work landscape and build high-performing teams.