Trust – a critical element to solve tough challenges collaboratively


Art by Lynette McCormack

How might we support each other right now?  Maybe even a better question is how might we find a way to thrive together with the best high-performance team we can assemble?

This is a challenge and an opportunity for all of us and as always, it starts with having a clear purpose. Even more importantly right now in a time of such great disruption, it requires building a community of trust.

When it comes to how well we work together, in our relationships, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, our states, our countries and as global citizens it all starts with purpose and trust.

What’s going right?

Even in this time of tremendous change, there’s a LOT going right.  Families are spending time together (hopefully that’s a good thing for most). Neighbors are helping each other – with groceries, TP alerts and positive chalk drawings on the sidewalks.  Our online connections are exploding with possibility – family and friend happy hours, book clubs and poker games.  Friends and colleagues report efforts of making personal connections on Zoom and WebEx calls.

We connect through virtual home tours, pet visits on camera and a willingness to accommodate the reality of childcare during the work day. Teachers have pivoted rapidly to teach online. They are supporting their students so they can continue to learn and complete the year. Restaurants shifted to delivery and carry out options and even meal prep kits. Doing things they never would have done in “normal” times. Those who can are donating and finding ways to support local businesses.

This all sounds great right, and yet we know there are massive challenges yet to be addressed that require us to work together, as a team.  And that takes trust.  Trust is what’s behind so much of those positive results I just mentioned.

Team Performance and Trust

In our work with a wide variety of teams over many years (and as supported by industry research) we know that developing High Performance teams is a process that starts with clarity of purpose and depends on a culture of trust between team members. This all comes before specific goals or action plans.  Our favorite visual model that captures this process is the Drexler / Sibbet Team Performance Model. (full credit to Allan Drexler and David Sibbet).  Visit: for more information. Their Team section is here.

The model shows the development of high performance teams – moving from upper left as stage 1)  Orientation – why am I here? immediately to stage 2) Trust Building – who are you?  without the purpose and relationship any goal clarification or process (what – stage 3, or how, stage 4) can’t happen.  The model aptly shows arrows moving forward through the stages – but also backwards when the stage is not created or resolved.

Positive responses

As I reflect on the organizations that are able to shift quickly and respond with positivity, it seems clear that we are following this same pattern on a micro and more macro level.  From families and social groups who start with a culture of trust, things are moving along with more momentum and getting a strong bounce upwards (using the metaphor of the bouncing ball depicted in the Team Performance Model above).

Families that were already close are finding creative ways to celebrate birthdays and special events by zoom.  Our family has a Sunday evening happy hour – why hadn’t we done that before?!

Work teams are deepening their connections and building trust through showing their true selves on camera – at home, with pets, kids and no makeup!  From this human connection and trust, they can move into work together to achieve goals and mutually support each other.

Leadership and Trust

On a more macro level, we are responding most positively to the leaders who share frequently and factually – letting us know what they know, and what they don’t know.  A recent article* by Northwestern Professor and business executive, Harry Kraemer shares two lessons for leading through crisis:

  • Do the right thing (which is not the same as being right all the time), and do the best you can do.
  • Tell people what you know and what you don’t know and when you’ll get back to them – keep communicating clearly and frequently.

Both of these critical actions of leadership are to build trust with your team.  When our leaders, organizational or in government, don’t do this, we lose trust in them and in the system or organization.  We retreat into fear and self preservation.

Time for a Reset

Josh Bersin’s recent article The Big Reset, talks about several impacts of the CoVid crisis on businesses.  One of his top “resets” is Trust.  As he states “The last decade has created an eroding sense of trust. Edelman’s research shows we don’t trust politics, we don’t trust the media, and we barely trust capitalism (56% of people think capitalism does not solve the world’s problem).”

Much like Harry Kraemer, he suggests that to create an environment of trust we need three fundamental things: ethics, competence and voice.  Do the right thing, do your best and communicate.

More locally, team leaders and facilitators are navigating this new remote workforce in every call.  More than ever before we are all (hopefully) actively building in time to check in “How are YOU?” and to relate to the Human to build connection and trust.

As individuals, we can’t overcome the tough challenges we face in our world today alone.  Working collaboratively, in high performance teams, we have a chance and it has to be built on a foundation of trust.

So, how might you work to build trust right now

… in your relationships, families, communities, organizations and beyond? Simply stated, we need to know WHO we will work with. We need to understand expectations, what the agenda is, who has what capabilities and overall who they are as a person.  The result – as shown on the Team Performance model, is Mutual regard (respect), Forthrightness (no hidden agendas) and Reliability (they’ll show up for you).

Get to know your team, and lead purposefully to build trust.  It’s foundational to solving the challenges that face us.


* Source: Kellogg Insight, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.  Harry Kraemer is a former chairman and CEO of the $12 billion global healthcare company Baxter International. In addition to being a clinical professor of leadership at Kellogg, he also is an executive partner with the private equity firm Madison Dearborn. Over the years, he has led through crises small and large—including a tragic crisis involving faulty dialyzers and patient deaths.

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