“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ―Ernest Hemingway

Defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something, trust is a theme that continues to resonate when we talk about team building. Trust is one of the core elements characterized by a successful team culture. It is a byproduct of teams with strong communication and healthy interpersonal relationships.

According to Paul Zak in his Harvard Business Review article, “The Neuroscience of Trust,” people at high-trust companies report 74 percent less stress, 106 percent more energy at work, 50 percent higher productivity, and 76 percent more engagement when compared with people at low-trust companies.

Why is trust such a critical component of high-performing teams, and how can you focus on cultivating it in your workplace this year?

The neuroscience of trust

Research in brain sciences has skyrocketed in the past decade. Today we understand better than ever how the mind learns, performs, and relates to others. Studies have shown that oxytocin—one of three “happy hormones” produced by the hypothalamus—has a positive impact on social behaviors related to relaxation, trust, and psychological safety. It also has been proven to decrease stress and anxiety levels.

Zak purports there is a positive correlation between the level of oxytocin in one’s brain and his level of trustworthiness. In terms of workplace collaboration, if you want stronger teams in your agency, you must build upon existing trust, which fuels oxytocin, producing more trust.

Trust as a team foundation

Best-selling business management author and sought-after keynote speaker Patrick Lencioni describes the role of trust in teams in his popular book and corresponding model, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Represented as a pyramid, this model helps team members understand how to work better together. Lencioni believes that high-functioning, cohesive teams excel in these five qualities:

  • Trust
  • Conflict
  • Commitment
  • Accountability
  • Results

Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, teams must master each level of the pyramid before realizing the benefits of the next level. Team dysfunction arises when absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results fester.

How to build team trust

Given the strong business evidence and learning science research about the critical role of trust in workplace performance and collaboration, nonprofit leaders who encourage an environment of trust within their organizations have a competitive edge. The following cultural values help to develop the brain chemicals and corresponding behaviors indicative of trust:

  • Vulnerability. Starting with transparency, organizations must be clear about their values and expectations for teams. Openly talking about trust (and distrust) is the first step toward building a strong team foundation.
  • Accountability. Trust blossoms when team members do what they say they will do, especially those in senior leadership roles. Strong communication skills and follow through are hallmarks of accountability.
  • Many teams lack trust because competition and performance are rewarded more than basic human integrity. Organizations respect their employees by valuing inclusivity, practicing empathy, and putting people before profits.
  • Psychological safety. The idea of psychological safety is gaining steam in the workplace. It defines one’s ability to show and employ her true self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career. Additionally, employees feel safe when organizations encourage risk taking and the space to fail without fear of repercussions.

Are you ready to take your team to new levels of cohesion and performance by mastering a foundation of trust?  Check out our E-Book “Power Teams” for more ideas on how to make your team more effective. Contact us for strategic consulting, team building training, and practical resources and tools for your teams.