Is there trust on your team?

A few years ago I found myself working with an executive team where the levels of trust were incredibly low.

The lack of it was thick in the air, like pea soup. Team members were guarded and defensive. Time and energy was wasted on self-protection and I noticed how each person carefully managed their words and actions.

People hid their mistakes and weaknesses from each other, no one ever dared ask for help. Team members avoided spending time together and everyone dreaded meetings. Predictably these were time consuming and ineffective.

Instead of showing boldness the team was hesitant and tentative. Conflicts and grudges simmered beneath the surface, hidden by a thin veneer of fake harmony. The effects seeped into the business. Soon more people became infected and silos began to form as turf wars flared.

The organisation was crying out for leadership but this team was unable to provide it. The company’s best people – the ones they could least afford to lose – began to leave.

Lack of trust is the most severe dysfunction a team can have. Without trust and the willingness to be open about weaknesses, failure and even fears, productive work and growth becomes impossible.

Success is difficult on teams where people distrust each other.

The source of trust is vulnerability.

Recently we surveyed senior teams across South Africa. We used a standard survey of 38 questions measuring the five vital behaviours a cohesive team should consistently demonstrate, namely trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

Our research showed that teams who were willing to be vulnerable with each other built trust the fastest.

Being vulnerable means people admit mistakes and weaknesses, they ask for help, they take risks in offering feedback and assistance, they offer and accept apologies without hesitation and they accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility.

They tap into each others skills and experiences and focus time and creativity on important issues not politics and sideshows.

Critically, these team members spend very little time protecting themselves and undermining each other and instead direct their energy and resourcefulness to the work and goals of the team.

What happened to the team?

Well they are not perfect – no team ever is – but they are much better.

The leader came to see that she played a vital role in building trust.

She acted bravely.

She risked making herself vulnerable with no guarantee that others would respond in kind.

She was authentic.

She acknowledged where she had made mistakes and apologized. She was sincere and the team responded to this.

Her willingness to be vulnerable allowed for new discussions to take place. It also gave her the right and the confidence to ask others to do the same. This set the scene for a genuine shift within the team and a marked improvement in the leadership they provided for the rest of the organisation.

We would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences on why it’s important to build trust on a team. The first five responses on our blog will receive a free copy of Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Please leave your comment below.



  1. Manuja July 29, 2015 at 8:44 am - Reply

    I believe that honesty is the best policy. If you can’t work as a team, then you need to work on your own for yourself in your own business. Team work drives performance in an Organization, on the sports field and at home. We can’t avoid it. Critical discussions and conversations need to be out there…it is the only way for mature team development… works!

  2. andre July 29, 2015 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Hi Grant,

    You should tell the CV story

    During the 4 journeys winning the Sasol Global best operations accolade.


  3. Elmare Keyser July 29, 2015 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Without trust, there can be no teamwork. People need to feel safe and comfortable to discuss their areas for growth. Teamwork speed up processes and bring joy to the workplace. A united team and high performing team promotes pride in the work place and leads to success. ,

  4. Athenea Mills July 29, 2015 at 9:26 am - Reply

    I honestly believe that a team cannot function without trust and it is even worse when the Leader is initiating the distrust. It is an essential component of every team and every relationship we ever have. I think a Crucial conversation is an essential intervention if a team is lacking in trust and everyone needs to have the courage and transparency to be forthright with why there is a lack of trust and deal it appropriately!

    • Grant Ashfield
      Grant Ashfield July 29, 2015 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      The behaviour of the leader is crucial. If the leader is sowing the distrust the team is in deep trouble. This kind of situation asks for real courage on the part of team members. Courage to not become part of the problem and add to the situation by being political and stirring the pot and then the integrity to speak the truth about what they would like to be different. In great teams team members hold the leader accountable and this means telling the truth even when there is personal risk involved. Thank you for your insight!

  5. Caroline Govender July 29, 2015 at 9:33 am - Reply

    Teamwork enhances cohesiveness between people that are from various backgrounds , culture and beliefs. Teamwork leads to most effective and positive results and adds joy and pride to the workplace.

  6. Byron Ross July 29, 2015 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Great article. Having no trust in the team is probably the worst thing I team has to endure. It makes teams highly ineffective and compromises the vision and goals of the company.

    It creates an unpleasant workplace environment and will eventually lead to lots of potentially good people moving elsewhere.
    Fortunately through having a good leader and/or mediator to rebuild mutual trust, confidence can be regained with each other.
    Thanks for the great article Grant.

    • Grant Ashfield
      Grant Ashfield July 29, 2015 at 3:36 pm - Reply

      Thanks Byron. The big risk is that good people will leave. A high price to pay for low trust! The good news is that I have seen many seemingly impossible situations – where there was low trust – turn around.
      It is possible to regain confidence in each other. Self awareness, straight talk, a common purpose and personal humility are all a part of what makes this possible.

  7. Dale Hillary July 29, 2015 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    Such a relevant article and so vital to the success of any team and business…in fact any relationship!
    Many thanks Grant…I have shared this with my network!
    Best regards.

  8. Heather July 29, 2015 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Great article Grant, thank you for sharing your wealth of experience so eloquently.

  9. Julie July 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Trust is an essential in any team! Most companies use a portion of their finances, to put in place systems that demand trustworthiness! It seems to be a very delicate balance.

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