“Shannon, will you draw the Trust Triangle today?”
The Trust Triangle is how we kick off all of our meetings on the Marketing Team here at The Predictive Index® and for good reason. Trust is the foundation of everything. It’s well-documented that trust is the single quality that contributes most heavily to success on a team. Without trust, we’d spend more time protecting our own jobs than getting our work done. And for a team like ours—focused on driving results for a company in rapid-growth mode—we can’t afford not to trust each other.
Which begs the question: Just what is this Trust Triangle?
Introducing the Trust Triangle
The Trust Triangle is based on the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. In fable style, Lencioni explored common work team dynamics, outlined causes dysfunction in workgroups, and offered a simple framework for helping teams perform better: what we call “the Trust Triangle.”
Here’s how it works:
Trust is the foundation.
In alignment with its moniker, the basis of the Trust Triangle is trust. In his book Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek talks about how humans are biologically and anthropologically wired to work together. He writes, “Of the four primary chemical incentives in our bodies, two evolved primarily to help us find food and get things done while the other two are there to help us socialize and cooperate.”
These two chemicals—serotonin and oxytocin—help us to build trust with one another so we can effectively work together. When we work together, we produce better results. Whether you’re trying to take down a woolly mammoth or conquer a category, teamwork is required. But that teamwork can’t exist if you don’t trust that the other members of the team have your back.
Once you have trust, then you can have conflict.
Healthy conflict is key to teamwork. When employees feel they can speak up about disagreements, healthy conflict can take place. This isn’t hand-to-hand combat; this is expressing a difference in opinion or an alternative perspective. These conversations are necessary to get a holistic perspective of issues and decisions. They also help employees feel like their voices are heard and valued in the decision-making process.
You've done a lot of hard work to support your team.
Make sure you don't miss this foundational element of employee engagement.
Once you have conflict, then you can commit.
Without healthy conflict, employees may feel they’re being asked to commit to a decision they’re not in agreement with. And not only are they not in agreement, but they weren’t able to offer their insights or express disagreement when the decision was being made.
Work teams rooted in trust create opportunities for individuals to healthily express disagreement so all sides of an issue can be explored. Then, when a decision is made—even if it’s not the decision they personally would’ve made—employees can feel comfortable committing, knowing their perspectives and opinions were taken into consideration.
Once you commit, then you can be accountable.
Once the team commits to a decision, they can be accountable for their contributions. If employees are not bought into a decision that’s made, they’ll find it difficult to commit—ultimately impacting their ability to work toward achieving the team or business goal. When it comes to executing on your action plan, you need employees who are engaged and motivated, not detached.
In addition to committed employees, you need teammates who can hold one another accountable. This can be uncomfortable, which is why trust is a must. Colleagues who know they can trust their teammates are more comfortable speaking up. Their commitment to the team is stronger than their desire to avoid interpersonal discomfort.
Once you’re accountable, then you can achieve results.
When the team is accountable to themselves and each other, they can work together to achieve results. The focus here is on the team—not individual contributions.
To use a sports analogy: Consider a basketball player who’s an all-star. They’re amazing in every respect. They’re fast, agile, and great at scoring points. But they’re not a team player. They don’t pass to their teammates and will sacrifice the outcome of a game to make themselves look like the MVP. While they might have the makings of an all-star, their attitude becomes a detractor for the team—ultimately causing low performance across the board. This player’s pursuit of personal goals and status erodes the team’s ability to achieve success.
You need it all.
No team is perfect, but like ours, every team has the potential to be high-performing. When it comes to achieving results, each of the other four components of the Trust Triangle—trust, conflict, commitment, and accountability—must be present. Otherwise, it’s every person for themselves—a losing strategy no matter which way you slice it.