To build better teams, start by building trust

Posted 18 September 2023 by
Vanessa Bradford

5 min. read

You’ve probably heard the phrase: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” This can be refreshingly true at times. However, modern work teams continue to face an onslaught of challenges. Thanks to hybrid schedules, economic uncertainty, different personality types, and broader organizational changes, it requires more effort than ever for teamwork to actually make the dream work. Just take it from Dr. Martin Boult. He’s a psychologist, an expert on teams, and the senior director of professional services for The Myers-Briggs Company’s Asia Pacific region:

“What often happens is you get a group of people together who are all quite skilled and qualified, and leaders think ‘right, now we have the perfect power team.’ However, if those people aren’t comfortable being open with each other, if they’re not comfortable engaging in constructive debate or communication, or if they’re not all psychologically aligned around a shared purpose, that team is not going to be as effective working together as a team that is aligned.”

There are hidden psychological dynamics within teams
At their core, high-performance teams tend to prioritize collaboration and inclusion. And they make better, more well-rounded decisions because of it. Individuals on high-performance teams understand that when the team wins, everyone else does too. That said, observable elements like collaboration or task management only tell one part of a team’s story. Some elements of team success aren’t quite as obvious, but they’re just as important. Two of the most compelling elements hiding beneath the surface? Trust and psychological safety. Here’s a quick summary of both:

Trust refers to the belief or confidence that team members have in each other’s intentions, reliability, competence, and integrity. It’s built over time through consistent action, open communication, fulfillment of commitments, and shared vulnerability. Trust is typically developed through experiences and interactions within the team. 

Psychological safety is a shared belief within a team that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks without the fear of punishment, embarrassment, or retribution. Psychological safety within a team creates an environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, opinions, and ideas freely. It’s vital for fostering creativity, innovation, and learning within teams. 

How to tell if your team lacks trust
While both elements are related, effective team development starts with trust. Without it, collaboration is nearly impossible. Goals might be reached on paper, but it’s often at the expense of one or more members. You know your team lacks trust if no one seems willing to own up to their mistakes, people rarely ask for help, members are generally dismissive of others, or if gossip is at the center of group communication. 

At the other end of the spectrum, teams with high levels of trust are much more flexible and resilient. Members are able to support each other, share ideas, and manage conflict without fear of being belittled or removed from the team. You can sense trust within your team if members clearly respect one another, are receptive to constructive feedback, are generally engaged, and understand their shared purpose and goals.

Leaders can build trust and psychological safety through inclusion
Most of us want to feel included and valued at work. Ultimately, we want to work with (and for) people we trust. For this to happen, managers and leaders must prioritize inclusion. Inclusive leadership is the starting point to build trust and psychological safety – not just on teams, but within the entire organization. At its core, inclusive leadership is rooted in empathy and humility, which are soft skills every leader should learn. Another key to inclusive leadership is to respect personality differences. Here are some examples of what inclusive leaders do, all of which help build trust and psychological safety:

Inclusive leadership is a cornerstone of team success
In a fascinating podcast episode on inclusive leadership, Dr. Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson (principal organizational development consultant for The Myers-Briggs Company) shared why inclusion is so important:

“It's rare for me to find a leader that doesn't understand, even if it's just from a people perspective, the value of creating an inclusive work environment. And then I think when you walk the leader through some of the business benefits of creating an inclusive work environment – how that moves the needle on things that every leader and organization would want – then I think they're even more convinced.

And I think that's because company culture has really hit an all-time high in terms of emphasis from employees . . . I read a statistic the other day where three fourths of employees are researching company culture before they take a job with a company, sort of regardless of compensation, regardless of the employee benefits. Three quarters of them are out there looking up information. And you have to ask yourself, as a company, in a world of online reviews where I can go on Glassdoor and I can find out all kinds of information, ‘Can we afford to not focus on inclusion at this point?’”

In the next post, we’ll explore another hidden element of team dynamics: team orientation. We’ll also take a look at two partially hidden elements: conflict and constructive communication. In the meantime, enjoy these resources to stay on the path of effective, inclusive leadership:


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