Collaboration Takes 6 Levels of Trust

6 distinct levels of trust.

When I speak on Collaborative Leadership, I talk about trust having these six distinct levels:

1. Trust in yourself and in the value of your contribution

Human beings are a “learning/teaching species.” We take pride in the specific knowledge we’ve accumulated, we enjoy adding to our expertise, and we get a psychological lift from communicating our knowledge to others. But to be a vital contributor, you must believe that your opinions and insights matter, and that your knowledge and experience are valuable to someone else. Unless you trust the innate wisdom and creativity of your own ideas, there is little impetus to offer them to the group.

2. Trust between team members

Well-placed trust grows out of experience and interaction – usually extended over time. In fact, research suggests that simply seeing someone repeatedly and therefore making them more familiar (the “mere exposure effect”), increases our liking and trust of that person. When you allow time for team members to build personal relationships at the beginning of a project, the increased level of trust will pay off later on in greater collaboration and productivity.

3. Trust in the team’s leader

Regardless of the overall corporate culture, as a team leader you can create a micro-culture of trust. You do this by creating an environment of psychological safety, by emphasizing team cohesiveness while encouraging the cordial and constructive conflict of ideas, by setting clear expectations for outcomes and clarifying individual roles, by helping all members recognize what each brings to the team, by celebrating group successes and analyzing the lessons in setbacks, and by sharing credit, reward, and recognition with your entire team.

4. Trust in the importance of the project

People are not likely to care about collaborating on projects they feel are unworthy of their contribution (a derisive term for this kind of project is WOMBAT — Waste Of Money, Brains And Time). Conversely, human beings willingly share information when working on a project they believe has real meaning and importance. This is why it is so crucial for you to clearly link your team’s objectives with the organization’s crucial business goals.

5. Leadership’s trust in employees

As important as it is for team members to trust you as their leader, it may be even more important for the team to know that you trust them. In a very real way, a leader’s expectations are a key factor in determining how a team behaves. Two key questions for all leaders: 1) Do you expect your team members to be trustworthy? 2) Do they know that you trust them?

6. Trust in the collective genius

Human beings thrive in collaborative relationships. Given the right context, we can do great things together. There is a phenomenal sense of accomplishment in achieving as a group what we could not have been achieved alone. But to turn this collective potential into a reality, everyone on the team must understand and deeply trust that none of us is smarter than all of us.