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  • “I’m sorry, but I just don’t trust you,” said Pat to Chris skeptically.

    Within this black cloud of a sentence—sure to drop plenty of rain on any relationship—there is a very faint silver lining: the fact that Pat is willing to say it out loud to Chris. More typically, a lack of trust means that talking about it with this degree of clarity is not very likely.

    Team trust is a critical component of effectively working together. When trust is there, results fly out the door. Without trust, anything good that happens feels like a miracle.

    Whether your team is in the enviable position of having a high level of trust or not, it can seem like an uncontrollable mystery, something wondrous like lightning in a bottle. Certainly team chemistry and personalities have a lot to do with it. But it’s not entirely down to luck. We can thank consultants David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford for providing a handy and practical formula to help unpack the mystery and give your team a sense of control. In The Trusted Advisor  they describe a “trust quotient” that they use in their consulting practice to measure trust levels between people that work together. More above the formula on their website. Here are its elements:

    T = trustworthiness
    C = credibility (your words)
    R = reliability (your actions)
    I = intimacy (your emotions)
    S = self-orientation (your motives)

    In a team context, having the space to explore trust in terms of its component parts is like gold. Chris and Pat’s conversation can shift from “I don’t trust you” to “I’m having trouble trusting you, and I think these are some of the reasons why.” In that shift the conversation moves from a brief and possibly testy exchange to an open and curious inquiry, one that might include other people on the team and will likely lead to greater insight, understanding, and (with a little luck and effort) improved trust.

    That’s not to say that these conversations will be entirely easy. It’s just that the terms of the conversation are broken down in a way that makes it more manageable. Let’s consider each of these elements:

    • There will be differences of opinion about individual credibility (one of the fiercest battlegrounds on many a tech team!). But a conversation about credibility can open out into an inquiry about how you each think about the issues at hand, and what expertise each team member has to offer. Focusing on credibility independently of other factors makes it more possible to have an objective conversation.
    • Reliability, the practice of doing what you say you’re going to do, seems on the surface to be primarily an act of discipline and will. But often misunderstandings about intention or commitments lead to differing perceptions of unreliability. These differences need to be sorted out with clarity in the light of day, and not entangled with other trust-related issues that only confuse things.
    • The experience of intimacy is built on qualities like self-awareness and emotional openness. Building intimacy with others requires courage, a sense of what’s appropriate, attention to how others are responding, and a willingness to experiment. This may be the trickiest of the trust equation elements to develop—but the rewards are substantial.
    • In the equation, the lower your self-orientation, the higher your trust score. The key here is to listen to others, put their needs first, and relate to them with curiosity. (For more about self-orientation, see “Become aware of your self-orientation” above.)

    Try It: Talk with your team about the Trust Quotient. Find a safe way to explore how the elements of the equation play out in the team’s interactions and ways of working together. Even a little insight can be the catalyst for big improvements.  Keep at it over time. The conversation may need to occur gradually, a little at a time, over several conversations. But given the importance of team trust, make it a priority to keep it as an agenda item to check in on regularly.