The Essentials of Teamwork Series, #2 Establish and Reinforce Trust Over and Over and Over

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 19, Issue No. 2b
June 15, 2020

By Dan Coughlin


A team is a group of individuals who support one another toward achieving important goals and fulfilling a meaningful purpose.

Being on a true team is a rare and remarkable experience. People talk about that experience as a meaningful part of their lives for years and years. Teamwork is easy to define and hard to create.

For teamwork to truly happen there has to be trust between the team members. Trust that you will do what you say you will do, and that others will do what they say they will do. Trust that the other team members won’t attack you behind your back, and that you won’t attack them behind their back. Trust that what you say will be considered thoughtfully and responded to thoughtfully. Trust doesn’t mean you will always like each other or agree with each other. It does mean that people know they can count on you to be honest in appropriate ways.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines trust as:

Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed; and dependence on something future.

I think all of those words are useful in understanding trust.

How to Build Trust

Here are three steps to build trust:

  1. Consider very carefully what you are going to commit to do.
  2. Let people know what you are committing to do.
  3. Actually do what you committed to do.

Again, easy to write and hard to implement.

You can’t do everything for everybody so be careful what you actually commit yourself to do. Be careful not to casually say yes when someone asks you to do ten things or asks you to sign a document that is so all-encompassing that there is no way you can do everything that is listed.

Then take the time to be clear in communicating to your team members what you are actually going to do. Again, be careful to not over commit.

And then follow-through and do what you have said you are going to do.

You build trust in little ways and in big ways over and over and over. Trust means people can count on you. The way that happens is they hear you and they see you, and what they hear and what they see connects to one another. There’s no disconnect between what you are saying and what you are doing. Even if they disagree with you, they know what they can count on from you.

How to Re-Build Trust

The greatest challenge when it comes to trust is not building trust, but rather rebuilding trust. This takes longer and is much harder to do.

Here are four steps for you to move toward re-building trust:

  1. Search within yourself to understand the roots of what caused you to lose the trust other people have in you.
  2. Decide to change those roots in order to produce trustworthy actions in the future.
  3. Communicate that you accept responsibility for what ruined the trust people had in you, and communicate what you will do differently.
  4. Act in the new way over and over and over.

Again, much easier to explain than to do. This takes tremendous reflection and effort to understand what you need to change within yourself. This self-honesty is very painful and necessary. Then you have to decide on a new path. Then you have to make yourself vulnerable enough to communicate this new way of being. And then you absolutely have to make sure that your talk matches your walk.

That’s a LOT of work.

If you are willing to do that, then maybe down the road people might start to trust you again. And they might not. You have to earn their forgiveness, and they have to forgive you. It’s a two-way street, and there is no guarantee that it’s going to happen. If you are very patient and you persevere, you might re-earn the trust that people had in you.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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