Trust Is A Pillar Of Any Effective Team

“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.” Warren Bennis

Bennis is right. As one of the most respected researchers in the last 50 years, Bennis learned that there is no substitute for trust. That’s why it’s the third pillar in any effective team.

As you will recall, in the last two “Tuesday Tips,” I spoke about Laser Quest’s four-pillared approach to team building. I spoke about their first two pillars — communication and cooperation. But if you think about it, the third pillar of trust is especially important. Communication without trust would be worthless, and cooperation without trust would be nonexistent.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get a handle on “trust” these days. Almost every day, we’re told of another politician, athlete, businessman, or preacher that can’t be trusted. So what does trust look like in a truly healthy team? And how do you develop more of it?

=> 1. A Picture Of Trust

Edward Reede, one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers, gave me a perfect illustration as to what trust LOOKS like. He illustrated his point by sharing a story about his father, Dr. Hal Reede, and Mr. Endicott Johnson.

Dr. Reede, a labor economist, had been summoned by a union to investigate the Endicott Johnson Company in Binghamton, New York because they couldn’t find one worker that wanted their union. They were certain there had to be some unfair labor practices going on.

As Edward Reede told me, “At the gate of the plant, an old man met Dad, shook his hand, and asked what business he had there. After Dad explained who he was and that he was there to perform a labor audit at the request of a union, the old man introduced himself simply as Johnson, and personally conducted Dad on a tour of the plant.”

Johnson introduced Dr. Reede to about 5000 employees — by name — and asked each of them how their spouses and children were doing — by name. During the tour, Johnson heard about one employee’s son who had just broken his arm. Johnson took out his own wallet and forced the man to accept money for medical bills they both knew were coming. Johnson wasn’t just those workers’ boss, he was their best and closest friend.

Upon returning home, Dr. Reede’s report to the union was simply that the union “had never recruited a worker at EJ and never would while Johnson lived!” And Edward told me that the meeting between his father and Mr. Johnson “was one of the happiest labor incidents of Dad’s life. In more than 50 years of research and teaching economics, there were only a few people Dad remembered as fondly as old Mr. Johnson.”

So what does trust LOOK like? Simple. Trust is CARING. It’s knowing that the other members of your team want what’s best for you.

=> 2. The Process Of Trust Building

Of course it’s easy to say that trust is defined as CARING. More importantly, how do you demonstrate that caring so trust is built? I answer that question in great detail at my program on “Teams That Win: Tips and Tactics for Scoring Major Victories.”

But here are a few things you can do — starting now.


Know what’s right. Do what’s right. Walk your talk. Or as Congressman J. C. Watts says, “Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.” So true!

And yet too many people act like certain behaviors — like goofing off when the boss is gone — is okay as long as they don’t get caught. No! No! No! If something is wrong, it’s wrong. Period!


Practice openness and candor. Don’t hoard information or keep secrets. They work against teamwork and even destroy marriages. You’ve got to share what you know, think, want, and feel.

You can’t be like the sly grocer who had a homely dog tied to a stake out front his store. He was letting the dog drink from a rare china saucer when an equally sly antique dealer walked by and asked, “How much for the dog?”

“He’s not for sale,” said the grocer.

“I had a pup just like that when I was a lad. Seeing your dog is bringing back loads of wonderful memories. Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” begged the dealer.

The grocer sighed as he continued sweeping the steps to his shop, ignoring the man. “I’ll give you $75,” the dealer exclaimed. “I simply must have that dog.”

“For $75 bucks you’ve got yourself a deal,” said the grocer.

Then the dealer added, “Well, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind parting with that saucer, too. The dog seems so fond of it. I wouldn’t want him to miss it.”

“Absolutely not!” cried the grocer. “That’s my lucky saucer. I’ve been able to pawn off every stray dog hanging around my stoop because of that dish.”

Holding back information can certainly get in the way of trust building. You’ve got to keep people informed.

And then…


Do What You Say You Will Do. Put your money where your mouth is. Or as one woman told her husband, “Don’t write a check with your mouth. Pay cash.”

Nothing is harder on trust than saying one thing and doing another. That’s why Socrates said, “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”



Good team members and effective leaders have learned how to share the power. What about your team? Does your team seem quite evenly balanced? Or do one or two people do most of the talking and most of the deciding?

In the context of a team meeting, one way you can share the power is to use the “Go-No Go Technique.” When you feel it is time for the group to move on to the next agenda item, take a vote. Address the concerns of those who give a “No Go” vote. Ask them, “What needs to happen before you’ll feel comfortable moving forward?” Deal with it. And in the process you will be sharing the power and building the trust.

Trust is a must or your team will bust.

Action:  On a scale of 1-10, how well is your team doing on the elements of trust…CARING, CHARACTER, INFORMATION SHARING, DWYSYWD, AND POWER SHARING?

Ask each person on your team to give a rating to each element. And then discuss ways you can raise your