How Trust Works: Understanding a Core Driver of Successful Teams

Reading Time: 
3 min

Written by: Tobias Günther

The term “trust” gets thrown around a lot in leadership circles.

On the one hand, this is great: leaders seem to understand that it’s crucial for building strong and resilient organizations.

On the other hand, however, only few leaders understand how trust actually works.

This explains why trust is still a rare sight in most teams. Because how could leaders foster and grow something they don’t fully understand!?

First Things First: Why is Trust Important?

I can offer two different perspectives to make clear why trust is so important for an organization:

  1. Trust is a requirement and breeding ground for countless other qualities!

    Without trust, you won’t see things like commitment, a sense of community, or honest feedback.
It’s probably most obvious with feedback: if I don’t trust you, I won’t give you honest feedback. Why? Because it’s too risky! I don’t know how you’re going to react (for all I know, you might just bite my head off…) I’ll be careful with certain things or keep them to myself entirely. This quickly becomes a major impediment for growth in an organization!
  2. The opposite of trust is micromanagement!
In leadership, the opposite of trust — or the absence of it — is our notorious, infamous enemy named “micromanagement”.
I will write more on micromanagement in the future. But here, I’d just like to make sure to emphasize how toxic it is: it kills motivation, drives talented people away, and puts managers under a lot of stress.

Trust, as I hope has become obvious, is crucial for building strong organizations.
It’s not the “cherry on top”.
It’s a core requirement for success.

Trust Brings Benefits on Multiple Levels

Commitment, community, feedback, psychological safety… these are all great reasons why we should develop trust in our teams.

But I’d like to go further and make the benefits of trust more tangible: what’s really in it for you and your team?!

The first thing to realize is that it has benefits on multiple levels (or: for multiple people). Because very often, we only see the benefits for the person receiving it. That person, most importantly, gains freedom to act and make decisions. This is vital for staying motivated. (Keep in mind how detrimental the opposite — micromanagement — is for a person’s motivation…)

But there’s also a benefit for the person *giving* their trust. It helps them reduce their own work load, because someone else (the person being trusted) takes something off their plate. This is an equally important effect, especially in times where leaders are stressed up to their eyebrows…

With or Without Trust?

It’s helpful to keep in mind that we can only ever be in one of two states: either with trust… or without trust! Here’s what each of these states look like:

  • With trust 👉 “I know my colleagues have the best interests of the group in mind. I choose to trust them and believe they make sound decisions.”
  • Without trust 👉 “I give only little leeway to my subordinates, because they can’t be trusted. I choose to micromanage them and make all decisions myself.”

This comparison is a great reminder: that choosing trust comes with benefits; and that neglecting it comes with a price!

The Mechanics of Trust

In many organizations, you can see that all parties wait for trust to “just happen”.
Because everyone wants to be the *receiver* of trust.

But this is not how it works.

Trust doesn’t just emerge out of thin air.
It is reciprocated — which means it has to be given, first!

Someone has to get the ball rolling. And given the power that leaders have in their roles, it should be part of their jobs to make this first step.

Simple, Yet Complicated

In a way, trust is simple: you need to start giving it… or nothing will happen!

In other ways, however, it’s also quite complicated: how do you actually pull this off — to give trust — in practice? And what do you do if your trust has been disappointed??

I promise to revisit (and, as much as I can, answer) these questions in my next essays.

But for now, you’re already way ahead of your competition: simply by remembering THAT and WHY trust is essential for building successful organizations!

Take care,

Join Our 6-Week "Kickstart" Course

Learn How to Build a World-Class Team

"Building Better Teams" is a guided masterclass for founders and leaders who want to build healthy and successful teams. It combines a unique curriculum, lots of practical tools, and hands-on mentorship from successful CEOs and founders.

We now offer the first 6 weeks of this program as a "Kickstart" course. Learn more and apply for a chance to take part!

Learn More and Apply