Trust is a critical component of effective teams. I personally believe that trust is the number one, most important criteria of effective teams.

Yet the path to building trust among co-workers is misunderstood.

According to Bruce Tuckman, all teams evolve through four distinct phases:

  1. Forming -- The team starts to come together. Members are anxious and uncertain. They don't yet know or trust each other, so everyone is on their best behavior.
  2. Storming -- Conflict is at its height. Team members think they know and trust each other, but they really don't yet.
  3. Norming -- The team members share a common goal and learn how to compromise. Trust builds.
  4. Performing -- Roles are clear and the team focuses on achieving its common goal. Trust is at its highest.

Trust is nonlinear.

Tuckman's model holds true across country, industry, and time. Yet the one thing it glosses over is how trust is built among team members.  

The fact of the matter is, building trust is nonlinear, and that makes it complicated. When team members get to know each other and the team forms over time, trust actually can both increase and decrease, or naturally ebb and flow.

At the start of a working relationship, we are on our best behavior. We don't yet know others and we want to make a good first impression. So, we act our best and begin to build up trust, in the phase Tuckman calls Forming.

But then, during the Storming phase, when conflict is at its height, we start to dig in our heels and feel resentment and confusion.  This is when trust is at a crossroads.

A trust crossroads is a good thing.

It's a mistake to assume that just because you've hit a trust crossroads with your team member that it means you are on an inevitable downward spiral.

In fact, it's quite the opposite. That fight you had with the co-worker who you thought you had a great relationship with? Instead of viewing it as a step back, view it as a moment where you both trusted each other enough to get vulnerable with each other and break into unchartered territory.

If you can identify these trust crossroads as they occur, then you can come out the other side with a bond that will be twice as strong as before.

Try to keep calm and trust on.

The best tactic I've seen when it comes to turning a trust crossroads into a trust breakthrough is embracing the awkwardness of the whole thing and explicitly stating that you are thankful that it occurred.

View the crossroads as learning opportunity. Ask your co-worker out to lunch or dinner to talk through each person's view of the argument. Explicitly state that you are thankful for the argument because you now have a deeper understanding of them, and view this as an opportunity for the two of you to break through to a new level of trust.

Published on: Sep 19, 2018