Five Ways to Build Trust on Your Team

Five ways to build team trust

Do the folks on your leadership team trust each other? Are you sure?

Patrick Lencioni, in his phenomenally best-selling business fable, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, offers a leadership model that we at Padraig truly believe in. It’s a model we share with, and develop within, our client organizations and we get phenomenal feedback about it.

team_pyramidLencioni’s model uses a five-level pyramid with each level resting on the foundation provided by the levels below it. The ground level foundation, the level on which everything else sits, is Trust. It’s followed by Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results.

Lencioni’s book tells the tale of a company that struggles with each. In other words, the five dysfunctions are the absence of trust, the absence of conflict, etc.


One of the big takeaways when we talk about trust with most teams, is the distinction between “predictive trust” which is what most of think of as trust, and “vulnerability based trust” as Lencioni calls it.

Predictive Trust is having the trust or confidence that a co-worker or team member will behave the way you expect they will – they won’t break generally accepted laws, norms, policies. This is the kind of trust you give to others, knowing that they won’t steal your computer if you leave it in the office or that they won’t deliberately corrupt the network hard drive.

It’s the same type of trust that we extend to each other when driving. We “trust” people know the rules of the road, will stay on their side of the line, will stop at red lights.

Belonging to a team typically gives you this type of trust and granted, without that basic level of predictive trust, you would have enormous problems. The thing is, many of us assume that’s the level of trust we need to be successful – but it isn’t nearly enough.

We need the vulnerability-based trust that Lencioni speaks about: a much deeper confidence that you can be vulnerable with teammates. The belief that you can do things like raise concerns or disagreements, ask for help, admit mistakes and hold others accountable without fear of retaliation, humiliation, or resentment.

Vulnerability based trust is trusting your team with your success. Trusting them with your career. Trusting them to have your back, all the time.

You can trust that others, when they do all of the above, have the best interests of the team and the organization at heart, and they can trust that you do too.

This type of trust for many people takes time, and it has to be earned and given.

So, how do you build vulnerability-based trust?

How to Build Team Trust

There are a lot of great leadership books that talk about trust and we incorporate them into our Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team leadership program. Some of my favorites are:

Go First and Be Vulnerable

As a leader, it is your job to model the behaviors you want to see on your team. In Trust Works! Ken Blanchard says, “When you open up and share about yourself, you demonstrate a vulnerability that engenders trust.”

Listen to Understand

One of my favorite quotes is from Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” where he says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to respond.”

That’s why we encourage you to listen with the intent to understand. It’s not a competition; you have to be willing to stop thinking about winning the conversation and open up to considering someone else’s ideas and concerns.

Spend Time Together

It sounds ridiculously simple but often when we work with teams who struggle with trust, the number one thing we hear is, “Things are busy and we try to limit how much time we spend in meetings. I guess it’s tough to trust someone when you don’t spend time with them.”

So find some time to spend time together.

Work on a Project Together

Again, this may sound simplistic but often when we work with teams who struggle with trust, we hear, “We all have our own areas of responsibility and so we don’t rely that much on each other.”

And yet, when we bring the team together and talk about something they all share (perhaps, how to manage poor employees, how to motivate, encourage and keep good employees, how to manage budgets in tough times, how to deal with difficult clients, etc.) they find they have a lot in common.

When you get people working together, they find a common interest and start eagerly sharing and learning from each other.

Get to know each other above and beyond work

How well do you know your teammates? When is the last time you had coffee, lunch or a trip together that wasn’t focused solely on shoptalk?

As part of our leadership workshops we have participants do a “vulnerability” exercise. No, I’m not talking trust falls or other fads, but rather, telling each other just a tiny bit about themselves and what makes them tick.

It’s pretty low risk, reasonably comfortable for most people, and yet even this exercise often leads to “I had no idea you were interested in….” or “I think I better understand now why you ….”

In many cases, the team decides they need to make time to do more of this at the start of their meetings.

Sometimes they decide they need a couple more occasions where team members get away together – to work through business problems but also to have an evening together – having dinner, talking and getting to know each other the night before or night after a workshop or brainstorming session.

Whichever method you choose, please remember – trust is an ongoing goal. Each step above will help build the right kind of trust but none are a one-shot deal to be left behind when you move on.

Click here to download your cheat sheet: How to build the right kind of trust

To hear Patrick Lencioni on Trust, click the video:

Coach’s Questions

How can you build vulnerability based trust on your team? Which of our ideas would help? What’s holding you back from going first?

Have you had success with other trust-building ideas? Share them with us below.

Click here to download your cheat sheet: How to build the right kind of trust