Building trust between team members

Building trust between team members is very essential for the development of a high performance team. I myself saw a lot of cases where teams performed poorly or even became dysfunctional due to the absence of trust between team members, despite the high capability of each individual in the team. The purpose of this post is to suggest several techniques that team members or managers can use to build up trust within the team.

In order to build trust, it is also helpful to be able to recognize the behaviors that may show an absence of trust between team members:
  • Team members usually try to show that they are better than the others. They rarely, or never, share about their weaknesses.
  • Team members avoid to admit the mistakes that they make.
  • Team members hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility or provide constructive feedback to the others.
  • Team members doubt other’s skills and commitment.
  • Team members avoid meetings or spending time to work on an issue together, thinking that is a waste of time.
  • Team members jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them.
  • Team members are reluctant, or refuse, to share performance goals with others.

No trust

There are many articles writing about how to build trust within the team but in my opinion, the tips suggested in those articles are too general to be easily applied. Therefore, using my own experience, I suggest several detailed ways that can be used to build trust between team members:
  • Encourage team lunch or one-on-one lunch for team members to communicate and know more about the others. Such events will help team members to share about themselves and learn from the others in many topics: background, family, education, hobbies, strengths and weaknesses. From there they can realize their similarities and the capabilities of the others, which can increase the likeliness of trust, as discussed in Hurley’s model for trust. From my experience, one-on-one lunch is more effective than team lunch for this purpose. People tend to share more about themselves when they are one on one with another, but not in a big group.
  • Setup funny quizzes that reveal team members’ individual information (such as hobbies, skills, education, past experience, strengths and weaknesses…) and have rewards for the winner. This encourages team members to know more about each other and people tend to trust others who they know more about.
  • Organize team building activities that encourage trust and collaboration between team members such as:
    • Paintball: Make sure that the trusters and trustees are in the same team
    • Rock climbing: One team member relay for another and vice versa. Make sure that team members know how to relay and follow all safety instructions.
  • Schedule days when team members work together in pair to know more about others’ strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, working in pair also help team members to experience the feeling of “achieving something together”, which make it easier to build trust between them.

Rock climbing

So those are very detailed suggestions that team members and managers can practically apply to build trust within the team. However, those suggestions alone may not be very helpful if the organization culture does not value trust. Therefore, it is also very essential to create an organizational culture where everyone “walks the talk” and has high commitment to their promises. Where trust is achieved and valued, high performance teams are born.

A model for trust

One of the key things to build an effective organization is building trust among members of the organization. People can only cooperate and collaborate together effectively when they trust each other. However, it is not always easy for managers to understand or to predict whether trust between two certain people can be achieved or not. Fortunately, there is a model for trust, developed by Hurley (2006), which can help to predict whether an individual will decide to trust or distrust another in a given situation. The purpose of this post is to present that model for trust theoretically. More practical discussion about how to build trust will be discussed in later posts.


According to Hurley (2006), there are 10 factors that can help to predict whether trust between two parties can be achieved or not. The first 3 factors are related to the one who decide whether to trust or not (who is called the “truster”) and the other 7 factors concern about the situation and the relationship between the two parties. Here are Hurley’s factors:
  • Risk tolerance: The more risk tolerant a person is, the more likely he trusts others. In other words, it is easier for risk takers to trust others.
  • Level of adjustment: People who are more well-adjusted trust others more quickly than people who are poorly-adjusted.
  • Relative power: If the truster has more power than the trustee, he is more likely to trust because he can punish the trustee in case his trust is violated.
  • Security: If the consequence of the violation of trust is not very scary to the truster, it is easier for him to trust.
  • Number of similarities: The more similarities that people have together, the more likely they can trust the others.
  • Alignment of interests: People whose interests are aligned are more likely to achieve trust. On the contrary, people with conflict of interests are less likely to trust the others.
  • Benevolent concern: People who demonstrate benevolent concern, who can sacrifice their benefits or put themselves at risk for the others, are more likely to gain trust from the others.
  • Capability: People only trust those who are capable to fulfill the expectation of the trust. This factor is even more important than similarities, aligned interest or benevolent concern. You can not trust a person if he does not have the capability, no matter how many similarities, aligned interests and benevolent concern that he has.
  • Predictability and integrity: A trustee whose behavior can be reliably predicted will be seen as more trustworthy. In other words, people who “walk the talk” are more likely to be trusted.
  • Level of communication: The more effective the communication between the two parties is, the more likely that trust can be achieved. In my opinion, effective communication should be the first factor to be considered when trying to build up trust.

The following picture summarize Hurley’s model for trust:

Model for trust

More practical suggestions for building trust among team members will be discuss in later post.

Hurley, A.F., 2006. The Decision to Trust. Harvard Business Review, September 2006, pp.55-62