Book Review-Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams

Why does trust matter anyway? Trust in our teams and our organizations can make the difference between poor performance and stellar performance. Trust is essential to creating and leading high-performance teams. Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams is here to help us create and lead high-trust teams.

The impact of trust shows up in every aspect of our lives. Amy Edmonson speaks of the need for psychological safety in The Fearless Organization. Psychological safety is a trust in the organization that it’s safe to speak up. According to Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, trust and how it’s focused shapes how everything works in societies. In our personal relationships, The Science of Trust explains its profound effect on our ability to remain connected. Our ability to build and maintain trust isn’t confined to just our work lives. Our ability to build and maintain trust impacts us at nearly every level.

Why Trust?

Trust is a gift that we give other people, and it’s risky. No one can earn our trust. There are no guarantees that our trust will be well placed. There’s always the risk that we will be betrayed and we’ll need to cope with the consequences. Leaving our soft underbelly open to attack has its risks, but it also has its rewards.

Life is exhausting. The need to constantly defend ourselves from other people and unknown threats can wear us down. When we create sanctuaries, we can recharge. In a sanctuary, we can take the time to recharge without being on the lookout for the next threat. Sanctuaries are places that we trust to protect us against the evils of the outside world. People can be sanctuaries, too. You can have trust in people that is so powerful that you know you’ll be recharged every time you’re with them.

You can build and lead teams that feel like a joy to be a part of instead of always worrying about who is going to stab you in the back.

Put Out the Fire

How to Build Trust?

I had the honor of spending time with some people in some of the darkest times of their lives, whether they were fighting their way back from addiction or standing in the middle of the wreck that once was their marriage. What I learned from these great people is that trust is hard to repair. Once the bond of trust has been broken, it takes a courageous person to trust again. Just as I explained in my review of The Fearless Organization that organizations can’t create total psychological safety but should create as much safety as possible, so, too, did these struggling individuals need to create as much safety as possible for the people in their lives.

It was during this time that I wrote a simple post, Building Trust: Meet, Renegotiate, Make. It’s a simple approach of making small commitments – that the other people in our lives will accept – and then meeting them or renegotiating them before they’re due to be completed. No doubt the author of Trustology would struggle with this approach given his insistence that trust can’t be earned. However, the point is not that you earn trust – after all, you can’t earn a gift, and trust is a gift. The point is that you create the conditions of perceived safety that allow people to give you the gift of trust again.

Trustology offers another approach to building trust, which can work in the context of larger teams and people that you don’t know well. People tend to trust people who are interested in them. If they ask about your children, your hobbies, your pets, then you believe they have your best interests at heart. As a result, you’ll be more likely to trust them. Therefore, the recommendation is that you be interested in other people’s lives.

The Three-Legged Stool

Trustology conceptualizes trust as a three-legged stool that is built upon integrity, competence, and compassion. Here, I struggle, because I don’t believe that the legs are quite right, and I’m afraid the stool will fall over.

Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace indicates that there are three kinds of trust: contractual (based on expectations), communications (based on authentic communications), and competence (based on skills or talents). There is obvious overlap in competence. However, contractual trust only loosely aligns to integrity, and compassion and communications don’t align at all.

Integrity is a big word. Not in terms of letters but in terms of its psychological weight. The morality and predictability of integrity are both challenging. As Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind, what is moral for one isn’t moral for another. The foundations of morality are the same, but the way that one person prioritizes those foundations may be different than the next person, and that creates a difference of opinion about what is and isn’t moral.

Reiss, in speaking of the sixteen behavioral motivators in Who Am I?, acknowledges the challenges of predicting behavior when motivators are in conflict. At the end of the day, trust is our prediction about how someone will behave. We believe that our mental model for them is accurate enough to predict what will happen. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

As a result, I can’t agree that integrity is the right word here. While contractual isn’t perfect either. because it implies a level of formality that isn’t right, its more accurately constrains the prediction of someone else’s behavior to something more manageable.

Compassion is a desirable virtue and one that I agree is critical to life. The ability to see others suffering and a desire to alleviate it is, I think, essential to our survival as a species. (See The Evolution of Cooperation and Spiritual Evolution for more on compassion and its importance in our evolution.) However, I’m not convinced that this is an essential component of trust.

Communication trust is admittedly on shaky ground, as it seems like a special case of commitment. It seems like it’s just that you’re agreeing to communicate on intervals or in the case of a problem. However, there’s a subtlety here. You expect the person you trust will communicate that there is a problem without having to be explicit. We’re more willing to delegate and trust others when we know that, if there’s a problem, they’ll come back and tell us that there’s a problem.

Ultimately, I feel like Trustology’s stool may be a little wobbly.

Cause, Participate, Allow

When we teach conflict resolution, we explain that everyone can have the role of participant, mediator, or observer. Problems, Trustology explains, can also place you in different roles:

  • Cause – You’re creating the problem
  • Participate – You’re a part of the problem (but you didn’t create it)
  • Allow – You’re allowing the problem to happen

When it comes to trust, it doesn’t matter what role you play in a problem. As long as you allow it, you can’t be trusted to prevent it.

Our Differences

In Trustology the authors assert that we go through four levels of social awareness:

  • Sandbox: Everyone thinks like me.
  • Awkward: No one thinks like me.
  • Enlightened: I think differently than others.
  • Wisdom: We all think differently, and that is good.

Young children aren’t capable of believing that others think differently than them. (See Mindreading for more.) This may transition to a belief that no one thinks like me and can be the source of great consternation – particularly in the teenage years. Our awareness – and perception – of others’ thinking can change two more times, from acknowledging the difference of thought to recognizing the value of different thinking.

I still struggle with balancing the good with how I think differently than others. My post Straddling Multiple Worlds exposes what I believe we all struggle with as we seek to keep our identities integrated. After all, we are all a part of multiple worlds that approach problems and think differently. I can acknowledge the value in thinking differently and, at the same time, yearn to have others who think more like me that I can connect with.

Maybe there’s an answer hidden in the pages of Trustology that will allow us all to think a bit more like one another – just enough to drive that connection – while remaining open to new opportunities. However, you’ll never know unless you read Trustology and see for yourself.

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