Excellent Teams Depend on Trust

Elements of a High Performing Team

I gathered with my new teammates a few week ago. They’re a collection of experience individuals, and I’m totally stoked to be found in their ranks. Elements of great teams was one of our conversation topics. We listed out all of the qualities we want our team to have together.

Loads of good ideas bubbled up. Every one of them a winning quality that I certainly wouldn’t argue against. As we wrapped up, and our meeting facilitator asked for final ideas, I offered up mine. It’s not a concrete hard skill, but something fuzzier. Something rather personal.


There’s no doubt about it. When I’m trusting in my teammates, and being trusted by them, we’re performing together big time!

From my perspective the most valuable qualities of a high performing team is a complete level of trust. I’m positive that anything can be accomplished by a capable group of people who trust one another.

Trust is incredible.

What Does Trust Do?

Our facilitator uncapped her pen and added my word to her collected list. I sat back and relaxed. Public speaking makes me tired, and even daring to volunteer a single word in a crowded meeting makes me fatigued.

Then she asked me to tell us more.

Oiy! Had to stall a moment figuring out useful details to say on the topic. Everything I told my team, and a few extra things, are recorded in this article.

Trust Working With Fresh Grads

I’m a veteran computer programmer. I’ve been around long enough where I’ve done most things and seen plenty more. There’s really nothing genuinely surprising to me anymore, but I keep searching for new challenges.

One of my favorite things at work is getting an opportunity to coach a new teammate. Particularly a fresh grad. If I really do possess any valuable experience I want to help an eager young person, new in their career, turbo-start past some of the hurdles I stumbled over.

That new hire has to trust me:

  • That I genuinely have her best intentions at heart.
  • That I’m not holding back any details that will help her learn her job.
  • That I really did do the things I claim I did, and my advice is based on reality.

When I can mentor, coach, and lead my teammates I’m making them better. Better for me to deliver worth with, better for themselves in their career, and better members of the company.

Trust Working With Peers

I’ve been writing code for 30+ years. I’ve come to realize tech is always changing. Our dynamic industry is one of the things that keeps me engaged and curious. What’s going to happen next? How can I learn something new and bring it into my career?

As a professional I need to be self-aware enough to realize when I’m stuck on a problem. If it comes to a point where I’m just grinding away on a solution that isn’t heading to a finish I’m wasting my time. Worst yet, I’m taking productive time away from my teammates.

That’s when I must trust my teammates:

  • That I won’t be embarrassed asking them to sit down, and help me troubleshoot my problem.
  • That I can bounce my idea off of them, no matter how dumb it is, and receive their constructive criticism.
  • That I should believe in them when they tell us they’ll be done on time.

When I can collaborate, delegate, and learn with my teammates we’re getting more done together. Delivering more value to our users, inventing more tech with each other, and drive growth of our project.

Trust Working With Managers

We all answer to someone. Good managers understand that mistakes happen and aren’t failures to be punished.

Managers and direct reports adhere to trust:

  • I need to realize my manager trusts me to deliver because she has someone she reports reports to, and has made delivery commitments to them.
  • I need to believe my manager understands mistakes happen, and aren’t failures waiting to be punished.
  • I need to show that I’m trustworthy enough to operate with autonomy, and I’ll gain more trust over time as I execute on our shared plan.

When I can align with my management chain we’re growing the company better. I can have a broader impact within the organization, I can get my fair share of resources, and I we can have a stronger impact across the company.

Trust in the Government

I’m not the only one thinking about trust. Some really cool references are available if you go and search for them.

One that’s stuck with me ever since I was a kid is attributed to a Russian writer advising former president Ronald Reagan. She taught him about a traditional Russian proverb that guided his point-of-view negotiating with his Russian counterpart:

“Trust but verify”

Trust at Google

Google recently conducted a study to learn what makes a high-performing team. Why are some groups so good together? The identified 180 teams and analyzed their people. The famous tech company wondered if there was a particular technology that powered them, or if a certain process lead to their relatively great productivity.

They were eager to understand how the best teams worked. I can guess Google wanted to distribute that magical aspect across their organization making everyone work better together. Finally, the published report listed five qualities to a successful team. The first quality struck at the heart of trust:

“Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?”

Do You Need More Trust?

Now that I’ve highlighted what I know about trust, and how I do better when I have it, do you see that quality in your favorite teams?

If you don’t have enough trust do you think you’ll ask for it, and give it back to your people?

I’ll close by offering one last bit of advice, "Doveryai, no proveryai"!

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