Business · Jun 21, 2018

Why Trust Is At The Heart Of Great Teams

Jon Harding is a Senior Performance Consultant for Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? He has over 20 years’ experience as a business coach, team coach and facilitator. Jon has successfully worked with clients to improve leadership and team dynamics to create a high performance, learning environment.


Creating a safe environment for learning

Ben has often talked about how his team were seen as odd by other crews in the rowing establishment. Odd because they spent a great deal of time together learning how they could make their boat go faster.

Reg Revans, the architect of Action Learning Groups, wrote that learning in an organisation must be greater than the rate of change in that organisation’s environment. If it is, then the organisation will thrive. If it isn’t, then the organisation will falter and fail. There are plenty of recent examples of organisations struggling to learn and adapt to their rapidly changing worlds; Maplins, DixonsCarphoneWarehouse and Marks & Spencers to name a few. Being able to find an answer to the question, ‘What enhances learning?’ is organisationally and economically significant when viewed from this perspective.

Lencioni in his best seller, The Five Dysfunctions of Teams, points to trust being fundamental to the success of any team. Without trust, team members find it difficult to expose their vulnerabilities, their mistakes and their challenges. Without trust, team members find it difficult to say ‘I’m struggling with this’ or ‘Have you got any ideas that we can use to improve this’. Recent research in Google supports this view. Successful teams, teams that are thriving, adapting and innovating, were those where team members trusted each other. Where team members felt psychological safety.

Without this sense of safety people withdraw. They withdraw in two ways – as individuals willing to say ‘Can you help me, I’m stuck’ and as contributors willing to offer insights, ideas and innovations to move things on for others. Without psychological safety, anxiety and fear grow, limiting learning as people default to the typical fight, flight, flock or fawn responses. These responses don’t help us find answers to the complex problems we face at work today. They create more of the same, more inertia and less learning.

So what are the alternatives? As members of a team or as team leaders what can we practically do to create psychological safety so that those around us are better able to learn to make the boat go faster?


Here are 9 ideas, one for each crew member that you can experiment with:

  1. Listen, listen not to respond but listen because you want to fully understand the views of others.
  2. Keep your promises, if you say you will then do it, if you know you won’t then don’t say you will!
  3. Make yourself easy to follow, be transparent share your vision, your methods and perhaps most importantly your motives.
  4. Be humble – genuinely ask for help and ideas from others.
  5. Apologise if you have a disagreement and when you get things wrong.
  6. If the team agrees something but you are not committed don’t sabotage the team’s decision when no one else from the team is around.
  7. Make mistakes an opportunity to learn not an opportunity to play the blame game.
  8. Ask for feedback – ask others about the impact you are having on them.
  9. And finally, who could forget the 9th person in the boat, the cox … Review – ask ‘What did we do well?’, ‘What could we do better?’ and ‘What can we change next time?’


Making one, two or a few of these suggestions your habits will increase psychological safety, trust and learning in your team. What have you got to lose? Let us know what you try and the impact this has on you and learning in your team.

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