David Maister recently participated in Charles Green’s Carnival of Trust and pointed us to Anne Truitt Zelenka’s post on Trust, the Secret Sauce for Virtual Teams. While much of my work is with in-person teams, I agree that trust within the team is the basic requirement to get stuff done. All of the other attributes of high-performance teams – shared accountability, real-time feedback, role clarification, constructive conflict – follow the establishment of trust.

Easy to say, difficult to do. Especially when dealing with professionals who by nature and training are often focused on individual achievement and advancement.

So how do you cultivate trust in a group like that? Anyone who says they have a bullet-proof solution is lying. But a recent client case made me re-think my ideas about this.

I was working with a very talented group of professionals who have worked together for a long time. In one on one conversations, they admitted that they didn’t trust each other, but (ironically) they didn’t dare admit that in front of the group. The leader intuitively knew that without trust, they would never have the kinds of genuine debates leading to committed decisions that he needed for their organization. But he couldn’t dictate trust: “You must trust the team or else” doesn’t work very well.

Over the course of our work together, a nugget emerged from the dirt we had to dig around in: Trust is really built when we understand each other AND accept each other. We don’t have to agree on everything, but for me to trust you, I have to believe that you really get me and you want to work with me anyway (despite my weirdness).

Zelenka’s post argues that the way to overcome individualism (and build trust) is for the manager to understand the values and opinions of team members. I agree AND I recommend she goes even further. Each person in the group (not just the manager) must understand and accept the others (i.e. “I’ll work with you to achieve any goals we have in common”), even when some opinions are different.

Try Open Hands instead of Skeptic

In fact, if you find that people aren’t trusting you, try asking yourself what that person brings to the party and how you can show gratitude for that quality. That’s an extra helping of secret sauce.

What would you add?