Bridging the Trust Gap within a Group

By Jim Fograscher, Core Facilitator with Leadership Strategies

When it comes to teams, there is one thing that can change everything.  It’s a necessary ingredient for transitioning a group of individuals into a genuine team.  It’s trust.

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey calls it, “an error to view trust as a soft, intangible, social virtue” anymore.  An alert facilitator can recognize a deficit of trust and take action to help launch a team towards success.

The Situation

I recently had the opportunity to help a new team launch a construction project. Individuals of an engineering design firm, the construction contractor, and the new building customer gathered for a partnering kickoff and my job was to break the ice and help them establish their charter.

The low-trust signs were fairly easy to read. The first person to arrive began to quip about how “they” never notified him of the start time and “they” always have out-of-date specs, and “they”…  As others came in, each predictably gathered at tables with people from their own organization. Introductions were shallow and guarded. Trust trouble to be sure!

Session Solutions

An obvious tactic was for me to mix up the tables, so there were members from each of the three organizations at each team. The groups were tasked to work together in their breakout groups to draft a purpose, identify measures, and establish values for the charter.

Leveraging the Secret of Facilitation #19 (Wilkinson, p. 100), a rotating review of the each other’s work pulled each group together a little more. Since we tend to fear what we don’t understand, working together builds familiarity and takes a step towards trust.

Fortunately, the values group listed “trust” as one of their four suggestions to the larger group. However, none of the reviewers questioned the vagueness of the single word, trust. Concerned it would become a big problem later in the project I took a calculated risk. Straying from the agenda I purposely asked a blazing Type A question (Wilkinson, p. 34), “So what should trust look like on this project?” The predictable pregnant pause was priceless – they all valued trust, and now they recognized that they didn’t know how to get it.

Next Steps: Building the Trust Foundation

  1. Consequences of low trust. The consequences of low trust, which Covey calls “trust taxes” (p. 17), slow down progress and drive up the cost of doing business (p. 13). So now, with a good Type B question, I helped the group brainstorm the consequences of low trust. The group quickly pointed out taxes such as; long delays in decision-making, layers of approvals, defensive posturing, extensive documentation, and hiding mistakes.
  2. Link consequences to goals. With each consequence of low trust the group offered, I followed with an invitation to identify which of the team goals would be compromised as a result. It didn’t take long for them to discover how tangible trust is. As a notable example, a bureaucracy around approvals for change orders directly threatens the on-time completion goal.
  3. Build trust expectations. Finally, I was then able to challenge the group to complete the sentence, “We value trust, therefore we will … “, and chart the responses. What flows is a robust list of positive, trust building, team expectations that give substance to the value of trust. If the group struggles here, Covey offers 13 behaviors of trust that make great norms in a team charter (p. 127).

Bottom Line

When trust within a team is a concern, facilitate the group through a discussion on the consequences of low trust, help them to link those consequences directly to their stated goals, and give them the opportunity to design trust-building ground rules into their team charter.

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Interested in learning more facilitation techniques?  Check out our course, The Effective Facilitator.

You can get more tips from either of Michael’s books, The Secrets of Facilitation or The Secrets to Masterful Meetings. You can receive a signed copy through our website.

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