10: We Have Trust Issues

In which we grapple with the multifarious concept of trust, in light of how important it is for leaders to establish, build, and maintain it in their relationships.

Topics: Leadership coaching, psychological safety, resilience, conditions leading to trust, Michael Jordan’s uncompassionate leadership tactics, critique, bestowed authority, Brené Brown, non-judgment, leaders speak last, “being right” behavior, earning trust, maintaining positivity and authenticity in the face of difficulties; integrity; whether organizations can earn trust; trust falls; Amy Edmondson; Google’s Project Aristotle; accountability; trust as an emergent property; why all these models and theorists never mention trust; trust within a team; trust between teams; trust as an integument that enables cross-functional teams to collaborate; Drive by Daniel Pink; operationalizing trust is like eating soup with chopsticks or trying to capture a candle flame.


Peter: Remember this from episode seven:

We’re wary of bringing trust into this work environment because my guess is because we think we fear we will have to break it. At some point, we are going to have to make a decision that breaks that trust. And so we almost don’t want to start that conversation for fear of where it will go.

But in order for us to make the–

Jesse: Wow. That’s just, well, I want to, I want to allow some space for that. ‘Cause that’s a pretty powerful statement, what you just said. And, the notion that leaders are carrying around with them, this burden all the time of the knowledge that whatever trust they build, they might at some point have to destroy, as part of doing their job, it’s a challenging place to be.

It’s interesting that we came to this place just because trust actually was a big component of the work that I was doing in the last couple of years at Capital One. And, it’s an area that I’ve been digging into, and trying to figure out how to bring a greater understanding of to my practice with leaders. So I have a lot of things to say about it.

Peter: Well, maybe that becomes the subject for our next conversation.  

Peter: That’s what we’re actually going to talk about today.

Jesse: On Finding Our Way.

Peter: You just love saying that, don’t you?

Jesse: I don’t know. It just seems— 


Peter: Welcome to Finding Our Way, the podcast where Peter and Jesse welcome you to their journey as they navigate the opportunities and challenges of design and design leadership. I’m Peter Merholz and with me is Jesse James Garrett.

Jesse: Hello, Peter.

Peter: Hi Jesse.

What were you thinking or what were you referring to when it came to the matter of trust in design leadership at Capital One?

Jesse: Well, as I was transitioning into leadership coaching, part of what I was really trying to do was look at the larger systemic patterns across the various teams whose leaders I was working with, and trying to figure out what I could do to push the culture forward in meaningful ways from a non-leadership position, but rather from this position of coach to the leaders.

And so I got interested in this concept of team resiliency and what helps teams stick together, hold together, pursue a vision together and see it through. And in reading into that kind of stuff, I started getting into issues of interpersonal relationships in the workplace and not just resiliency, but the safety that is created by the leaders of these teams. 

So, psychological safety is a phrase that we’ve started hearing a lot about in workplace contexts, in terms of how much space do leaders create for a diversity of opinions. How much room is there for dissent in organizations, things like that.

And it turns out that all of these things track really strongly with the set of ideas that I was thinking of as team resilience and digging into this whole subject area eventually came down to the question of who do you trust and how was that trust created and how does that trust develop and grow over time?

And this takes place really purely at the level of two individuals, any two individuals in the team. There is a question of what is the existing trust relationship between those individuals? And in a lot of ways, I see the responsibility of the leader of the team to foster those trusting relationships, not just with the people that they’re engaging with, but among the people that they’re responsible for.

Peter: Tell me a little bit more. You used the word resilience, which is a word I like. but I want to make sure I understand what you mean by it. I see resilience as an ability to hold together come what may, primarily through challenges. 

Jesse: I do see resilience as the ability of the team to hold together, come what may, and what you’re really talking about is the teams. Collective ability to face uncertainty together and to find a way through to a solution together and staying together as a team.

You know, I think about these really enduring product teams, that we see in some of these longer standing organizations where somebody will move into a leadership role and they will gather around them their best collaborators, and they’ll take those collaborators with them from project to project and sometimes from organization to organization, where they’ve got a lot of trust built up there already, and they’re able to leverage those relationships and carry those forward into brand new areas where they don’t know what’s going to happen.

But ultimately those places where the trust is thin are the places that eventually become fractures and fissures that break up teams and that create these breakdowns in unity of vision, unity of purpose.

Peter: What are the conditions that you saw that prime a team for higher trust, or maybe behaviors and activities?

Jesse: What we’re looking for, what trust ultimately is, is an internal barometer, a compass by which we evaluate other humans and how much confidence we can have in the predictability of their choices in their behavior.

Peter: It’s like brand. Sorry.

Jesse: Well, yeah, I mean, we talk about brand promises and, and yeah.

Peter: Its promise. Yeah.

Jesse: But it’s not necessarily a specific promise in that it’s not that I need to be able to predict exactly what you’re going to do in order to be able to trust you, but in order to be able to trust you, I do need to feel that whatever choices I see you make are internally consistent, are compassionate toward other humans, and are undertaken with a degree of care and awareness. And so we’re looking for, in other people, we’re looking for these signs that whatever decisions this person is going to make in the future are going to come from a place of groundedness in themselves. Awareness of what’s really going on around them.

A certain degree of clarity there, right? And compassion toward the impact of their choices on the people around them. And so we’re looking for signs and signals of these things all the time.

Peter: Interesting. Having just finished watching the 10-part ESPN docu-series on Michael Jordan in “The Last Dance,” I would argue that his teammates trusted him, but they did not find him compassionate. He was an asshole who would ride you very hard in order to get the best out of you. 

Now, you could trust Michael Jordan in the ways that you’re talking about. He was highly predictable. You knew where he was coming from. You understood what his goals were, and he never wavered. So there was that solidity. But, the desire to meet the goal overrode everything else for him. And if his way to get there was to goad you through belittling, because he felt that was the lever by which you would perform better, you would be willing to do that.

Jesse: I did use the word compassion, but I think that what I’m really talking about more is simply a level of human awareness. That is to say, Michael Jordan knew the effects of the choices that he was making on the other players and whether or not that contributed toward trusting relationships. Maybe with some people that did more than others. For some people, if you push me really hard to get me to a place that I want to get to, that I can’t get there by myself, that actually is a way of seeing me, serving me, supporting me, and for some people, if we can do that in a way that resonates, then it can be productive. If the leader is tuned out, not noticing the emotional effects of their choices on their team, that’s what creates the damage.

Peter: Hmm. Yeah. Well, it’s, it’s funny. So, I think the reason many organizations, many even design teams struggle with critique, is that critique requires this trust that you’re talking about. In order for it to work, in order for you to be direct, in order for you to be honest, frank, forthright with one another such that the person receiving it doesn’t wilt in the face of the criticism, there needs to be that shared understanding, shared respect, and trust in one another. And I think what lacks in many of these organizations is that trust, is that sense that we are all aligned, we all have the same goals, and we all have this respect for one another, and so when you tell me that this design isn’t working, it’s not about me. It’s about the work. And in organizations where that hasn’t happened, when you told me this design isn’t working, I feel it’s about me.

Jesse: One of the people who’s done a lot of research in this area is Brené Brown, who is a psychological researcher, who’s done a bunch of TED talks and has written a bunch of very popular, successful books. And in her research on the qualities of these trusting relationships, one of the qualities that she talks about is non-judgment, which is to be able to engage with someone about a situation, without holding a judgment about them as a person, through it. And so this is one of the behaviors that she’s identified in her research that contributes toward that sense of trust that you’re talking about. 

So you’re touching on all of the same things. I do think there is an element that comes into play here that is maybe not as obvious to talk about, which is power and the way that power is used to force trust. Or to override mistrust. And again, that can go up to a point. But when you have these leaders who impose their will through authority rather than connecting people with meaning and purpose and bring them along, that is in the long term not a recipe for a trusting relationship.

Peter: Yeah, I was thinking of that when I was thinking about critique because critique is a method that you learn in design school. And it surprises me then when you get out into the real world and you engage in critique, and designers often find themselves feeling attacked. And I think it’s in part, my hypothesis would be is that in design contexts for time immemorial, critique was predicated on this assumption of trust, particularly on the part of leadership, this power dynamic that you’re referring to. Leaders felt comfortable critiquing the work of their team without ever having established the needed underlying relationships, because they were in authority and the team members just kind of had to take it. 

Jesse: Yeah. 

Peter: And that there’s probably been this toxic dynamic for decades, centuries, in terms of how this was handled and like the abused child going on to abuse their children, it just kind of kept getting carried down ‘cause that seemed to be the way it had to be. Whereas, environments where, what did you call it? The non-judgment, Brené Brown’s non-judgment kind of quality will lead to better critique, than prior modes. The other thing, oh, the other thing I was thinking of when you talk about power, it’s a story that I tell that comes from my time at Adaptive Path that I then baked into my leadership training. Where we started Adaptive Path, there were seven equal partners. We were comfortable arguing with each other, fighting with each other, intellectually.

Jesse: Hmm. 

Peter: And that was just part of how we worked. And then we started bringing people in. And the earlier folks we brought in tended to be okay with this dynamic. We tended to find folks who were strong-willed, who were eager to engage with this kind of rough-and-tumble intellectual discourse.

But as we grew, we ended up, as one does, you just find different personality types and some people who were clearly not comfortable with that way of engaging, and I hadn’t realized it. I tend to not be the most immediately empathetic person. And so I would engage as I always had, which, you know, people are showing work or giving a presentation and looking for feedback.

And I would give my feedback very directly ‘cause I want to make it better. And what I didn’t know was happening was that people were receiving that poorly, and it was shutting them down. 

And it was one of our colleagues, Laura Kirkwood-Datta, who I remember pulled me aside and basically said, she said, “You can’t do that.” I’m like, “Do what?” She says, “You can’t talk, you can’t engage in that way in these group sessions when we’re working through things,” and I’m like, “Why not?” I’m like, “It’s just ideas. We’re all here with our ideas. We’ve always talked about our ideas. We’ve always said best idea wins,” and she’s like, “You’re the boss,” and I’m like, “No, I’m not. We’re all equal.” Then she’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. You’re the boss. You’re a founder. You’re in a position of power and authority, and when you talk, it stops the conversation.”

And it took me a while, like I was defensive at first. After a couple of days, I realized the wisdom in what she said.

And, what this has turned into in my leadership practice is that leaders speak last. In any room, the most senior person should be the last person to talk. If the leader talks earlier, then that becomes an edict that people feel like they have to follow. What usually happens is at some point in the conversation, someone will say whatever the leader wanted to say, but because it emerged from the group, now it doesn’t feel like an edict.

It feels like something we believe, and they are much more likely to carry it forward with vigor as opposed to just feeling like it’s a command.

Jesse: I think there is definitely a not small amount of the leader’s job that simply involves listening intently until someone says something that you agree with and then agreeing.

Peter: Which can be hard for a certain kind of leader. I mean, you and I, I think we’ve talked about this, like all throughout our lives, we were lauded and given good grades and celebrated for being right and making good arguments. And, there’s a culture that supports that behavior. But when you’re getting into these group contexts, that kind of behavior, that “being right” behavior, that “smartest person in the room” behavior can actually be defeating and deflating for a team.

Jesse: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. and we’ve talked a little bit about how the stance of the leader needs to be different from the stance that they held as a designer in the room. They have to recognize that their words have a different weight now than they did before.

The truth is that every leader is going to bring baggage from their previous experiences to the role, whether you’re a design leader or a technology leader or any kind of a leader, and those things can be unconscious patterns that, to your point, can be undermining your ability to effectively earn trust from your team.

And I think that word earn is really important because it is an investment that you’re making toward the future when you are engaging in these trust-growing activities. And you know, when we all find ourselves under psychological pressure, we fall back on our shortcuts.

And for some leaders, when they find themselves in those positions, they fall back on shortcuts that undermine their ability to engage in these trust-growing behaviors. It becomes a little bit harder for them to be as entirely open with the team as maybe they want to be. It becomes a little bit harder for them to be as compassionate in their communications. it becomes a little bit harder for them to show up with the consistency that drives trust among a team. Those kinds of things.

Music break

Peter: Leadership is hard. And I don’t think a lot of leaders understand just how hard it is before they get into it. And I don’t think a lot of them necessarily realize how hard it is to do right once they’re in it. And one of the key places it’s hard is this balancing of information that you now have access to at a leadership level, oftentimes, which can be quite difficult. You’re part of a company. The company may be struggling. You’re not meeting your numbers. There’s an HR violation or some, whatever it is, you get access to all kinds of information. 

And you as a leader have to figure out, How do you engage your team, now, knowing what you know? Because one of the things that I am firmly in belief in is that leaders have to maintain positivity with their teams. It does them and their teams no good, for leaders, if they hear that Q1 sucked, to then in the next team meeting to talk about how sucky Q1 was, right? ‘Cause that’s just going to crumble everyone else on the team. And so one of the biggest challenges that leaders face is how do they maintain authenticity, honesty, their own integrity, given what they know, while maintaining positivity when times are tough.

Jesse: Hmm. That is hard.

Peter: And that’s something that I’ve struggled with, ‘cause you don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses. You don’t want to snow people into thinking, like, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine.” And then they find out, you know, three weeks later that they’ve been laid off.

But you also don’t want to say in three weeks, a third of you are going to be laid off. So you start figuring out how to be truthful. You never want to lie. How do you be truthful?

Jesse: Obviously one factor that is related to trust is honesty. And it can be really challenging for a leader not to commit a thousand sins of omission every day, in terms of the information that they’re leaving out of their communications, but I will say that what people are looking for is a degree of clear-headedness. Are you being, not just honest with me, but are you being honest with yourself about the reality of the situation? And are you operating from. a self-aware stance? You know, when you talk about rose-colored glasses, that’s another way of undermining trust. You don’t even have to lie to do it if you are not being truthful with yourself about the reality of the situation. And then how do you motivate people in that case? Again, I think it’s a matter of are you connecting back to the sense of meaning and purpose that drives your engagement in the work in the first place.

Peter: I want to circle back to something you said earlier about earning trust, because I agree with you. I think that was my a-ha moment when I was at this conference and we were talking about, How do we get employees to be more fully engaged in their work? And we do that by connecting them with meaning and purpose. And as I was noodling on that, I realized, yes, you might engage people through meaning and purpose, but if you don’t earn their trust, then that meaning and purpose kind of washes away.

Jesse: Well, and another thing related to what you’re talking about here is the notion of integrity, which is, are you acting out your values? Are you walking your talk? And, if you say that something is important to you and I see you do something else, even if we have previously aligned around that value, I can still hold that value, but what is lost is the sense that I share it with you.

Peter: Right, right, right. So trust needs to be earned. It’s earned. Gradually over time it builds. it’s one of those things that probably build slowly and then can be taken away quite quickly. But, my question for you, ‘cause you also mentioned at the heart of trust is the relationship between two individuals, and I’m wondering about trust in organizations, What is an employee’s trust? Even a leader’s trust, much less a member of their team’s trust with the organization, the company that they work for. And I’m just curious if you unpack that at all in your research around trust.

Jesse: Well, I mean, yes, people have relationships with the organizations that they work for, but not in the same way that I’m talking about. You can’t build a trusting relationship with a system.

Peter: It’s funny though, because these companies are trying to be that. They want to earn your trust, right? All of these very you know, pro-employee organizations, that are trying to look out for you as an employee and, and where they want you to feel like this is your family. And it’s your home away from home… 

Jesse: And I can tell from your tone of voice that you think it’s a bunch of empty rhetoric, which is exactly what it is, which is exactly what it sounds like, because it’s not a substitute for the thing that actually keeps people in organizations, which is working with people who have their backs, and that’s what trust is.

Peter: What, so what then? Hmm? Is it not possible for an organization to earn a team members trust?

Jesse: I don’t think so because as soon as you change the leadership of that organization, the trust is reset.

Peter: I think I agree. It’s just intriguing for how many people that becomes this startling notion when that trust is lost. 

Jesse: If organizations want to build trust with employees, they need to be elevating trustworthy leaders and making the qualities of trustworthy leaders cultural values within the organization.

And I would say that, coming back to the notion of resilience, organizations that tend to hold teams together for a long time tend to do so because those trust relationships are not just with the leadership. They are matrixed, and there’s a broad web of trust relationships across the organization that doesn’t just follow reporting structures. That doesn’t just follow the shape of the organization itself.

So, I think that the most effective leaders, the ones who are able to create these more resilient teams, are not just creating trusting relationships of their own, but they are helping the people who are in their care create trusting relationships with each other and with the people that they have to engage with—their business partners, their technology partners, whoever they are.

Peter: Right. 

Jesse: It is fostering a culture of trust-building that is the thing that makes organizations trustworthy.

Peter: Yeah. For some unfortunate reason, maybe because I’m a glib, cynical mofo, you know, all I can think of are trust falls, and hackneyed team building exercises.

Jesse: That stuff doesn’t work either. And because it’s not a substitute for these things that I’m talking about, it’s not a substitute for showing that you know what you’re doing. It’s not a substitute for showing up in consistent ways over time. It is not a substitute for being honest and clear with people. It’s not a substitute for showing that you care about the impact of your decisions on others.

Peter: It’s funny. So you mentioned psychological safety, which I believe is a phrase that was brought forth to the world by a researcher at Harvard, Amy Edmondson, did a lot of work on teams and teaming and recognized the power of psychological safety. It probably, at least in our universe, caught wind when Google did a project, trying to understand what led to teams being successful. Their People and Culture group did some internal research. And their hypothesis was that the best teams were the teams with the best people on it. And because Google had had kind of this mindset that, you get really brilliant people, throw them together, give them a problem, and, and let them run with it. And that is how you achieve success. 

And the research showed that… I don’t even know if talent measured on the top five factors of team success. And there were two things that were overwhelmingly important. One was psychological safety. It was far and away… It was like tier one, far above tier two, and then tier two was far above three, four, and five.

Tier one was psychological safety, essentially, that you will not be threatened or at risk within a team based on your actions. You can speak freely, you can try things and if they don’t work, you are not going to be humiliated. You were not going to be demoted. You are not going to be fired or whatever fear that might be in other contexts if you were to have not great outcomes. And instead, it was going to be recognized. Like, you know what, that’s just part of the process and you are safe here. And that safety led to better performance. The second most important thing, which is something you just touched on as well, is accountability.

That you are accountable to one another as team members and that you follow through on what you say you will do. Essentially those two things were far and away the most important factors of team success, at Google.

Jesse: And so in Brené Brown’s research, she refers to these two qualities as accountability and reliability. Reliability being the consistency with which you show up and accountability being simply your willingness to own your mistakes and to take responsibility for the consequences of your choices.

Peter: There’s a lot about team building that we can talk about and could unpack here. That’s been a subject of my research interest for the last year and a half. Though, it’s funny, I never really poked a trust as a factor. I guess it’s an emergent property of these other aspects, but it’s almost never discussed in and of itself as a goal or an objective or a necessary criteria. For some reason, that word, it’s almost like a third rail word. 

Jesse: Yeah, it is. Because if you’re going to talk about trust, then you have to admit the possibility of mistrust, and then that becomes, I think, a dangerous thing for organizations to consider. Having to actively manage it really makes them uncomfortable. Maybe dangerous is not the right word, but uncomfortable.

Peter: Definitely uncomfortable. So one of the challenges that I’m currently facing is, supporting a team where there is by-and-large trust internally, though there are some misgivings, there are some challenges with communication and transparency. As I was unpacking that, what I believe to be true is that the issues are less within this design team and more within the organization as a whole. And I kind of want to create this safe space for the team, this bailiwick, this home for them where they can be their fullest, best, completist, most trusting selves, and we can probably get much of the way there.

The issue is these teams don’t exist in isolation, these teams are part of larger organizations that don’t necessarily share the value of this particular design team. We’re running up against that boundary line of, yes, we can be safe when we’re in our cave, but we often have to venture out of the cave and we have to go talk to the people in other caves, or we have to meet on the field and build a fire together.

And we don’t all have the same sense of how to build that fire. And now we’re arguing with each other. And that affects how that person, then, when they go back to the cave, yes, they can get affirmation and stuff, but when they spend most of their time out on the field arguing with the other fire tenders, I have trouble figuring out how to solve that issue as a design leader, because much of that is outside of my control.

Jesse: And it’s this indirect empowerment of the team members with the trust-building skills, with the relationship-building skills to give them the skills to do that. So imagine, you know, out there in the wilderness around the fire, like you’re talking about, if somebody is going to get all those groups organized and aligned and to agree with each other, who do you think it’s likely to be?

It’s going to be the people who came from the team that had the strongest practices like that internally to begin with. So in a lot of ways, I feel like we have to take these practices out to the larger organization because that’s the only way we get that larger scale alignment, which is essential to our larger scale success.

Peter: My hope was, I actually said this, my shining hope for us is that by doing it right ourselves, we become a model. We can model behaviors that others will adopt, when they see how well it works for us. There is a challenge though in that, the behaviors that work well for a design team aren’t necessarily going to be the behaviors that work well for an engineering team, for a marketing team, for a sales team.

Part of the reason I like to think about protecting design, is you almost need to keep these other cultural practices at bay because they might work for their teams, but if design were to try to behave like an engineering team, if design were trying to behave like a product team, design loses its spark.

And so how do you maintain those distinct qualities that serve this group behaving at its most effective, while allowing that group to successfully integrate with these other teams whose values and cultures are themselves distinct?

Jesse: Well, I think that’s what this process of growing trust is all about. This is about people with differences and how we figure out how to get along and move in coordinated fashions despite differences of perspectives and differences of experiences and differences of backgrounds and all of those things.

Music break 2

Peter: So I guess, trust then becomes a medium. Like we talked about relationships a few episodes ago. Trust becomes a medium that allows different groups with different cultures, different backgrounds, different priorities, to not just co-exist, but to collaborate. And it doesn’t matter that my team has a different set of values and behaviors than your team. What matters is I can trust you and your team in the solidity, in the predictability, in terms of some higher-order values that we are aligned on. There might be some team specific values, designers are going to be empathetic in some way, and engineers are going to be about speed or performance…

Jesse: Well, again, then the question is one of integrity. Are you living your values? Do I see you living your values?

Peter: Well, there’s probably two orders of values. There’s going to be some higher order values that should bind us all together. And then another level of values for each of us in our teams. You don’t need a lot of those higher order values, but as long as people on other teams share those higher order values, and have that dependability, solidity, predictability, integrity as you said, it almost doesn’t matter that we behave differently in our own groups. This trust becomes this integument, becomes this medium, becomes this binding force…

Jesse: Yes, yeah… 

Peter: That allows us to successfully engage with one another.

Jesse: Yeah. If you think of the people on the team as being these sovereign city-states, each with their own culture and resources and all of it, and we want to connect those city-states together, we need to pave some roads like the Romans did. And those roads are paved with trust. It is the foundation that connects us. And that trust is put in place one cobblestone at a time as we exhibit these behaviors.

And I think that when you’re going to take up that role that design often takes up that we’ve talked about design in some cases needing to take up in organizations. That role of being the contrarian in some ways, of holding a distinct set of values separate from those of your partners in the organization because that brings something to design as a practice or that brings a perspective that the other functions in the organization don’t have.

When you are taking that on, it is extra incumbent on you to be the one who is investing in the trusting relationship because these people are automatically gonna walk in with a lot of reasons to mistrust you, a lot of reasons not to be clear on your priorities or your intentions because you are coming in from a clearly acknowledged different place culturally.

I think the biggest takeaway that I’m taking from this whole conversation is the way in which these trust issues, they’re, they are multifaceted. There are lots of different kinds of issues that when you look at them more closely, they are actually trust issues. And they are pervasive at all scales in the organization.

Whether you’re talking about the one-on-one relationship, or the relationship with the leader of the team, or the relationship of teams to teams, or the relationship of leaders and teams to entire organizations, trust and all of these different facets of trust are going to be factors throughout all of those.

Peter: This study out of Google talking about psychological safety and accountability still doesn’t use the word trust. Or another resource that I really like is the book Drive by Daniel Pink, which is where this concept of autonomy, mastery and purpose became popularized as a way to encourage employee engagement.

He never discusses, at least I don’t recall, trust either. And I’m wondering if trust was something that you found someone out there discussing, or if that was an insight you had as you were mulling over this material that you’re like, this all seems to be building up to this notion, oh, this notion is trust.

Jesse: I think when you look at team resilience, team cohesion, team happiness, psychological safety, trust, all of these things track very closely together. They’re all tangled up together. I think that if you polle dany random half a dozen articles on one keyword, you would find most of the other keywords tangled up in there somewhere, you know.

Peter: Yeah. Yeah. My modeling brain though is trying to develop the set of relationships between them. 

Jesse: It’s not like that. It is more gestalt than that.

Peter: Okay. ‘Cause part of me, in a pragmatic way, wants to think about, “How do we operationalize this understanding of trust?”

Jesse: Yes. 

Peter: Is that something measurable? Is this something that, you know, these other, aspects can build up to?

Jesse: I would say you don’t operationalize it in the ways that you were describing. It is not something that gets managed through processes. It is something that is a matter of how leaders show up day-to-day. How are they engaging with that team, meeting after meeting after meeting.

It’s about the individual skills and capabilities of those leaders and their ability to manage themselves and to show up in their most effective ways day in, day out.

Peter: That’s not a satisfying answer. I want to, I want to model this so that I can, I can teach it.

Jesse: Well. I would say, you can do that. You can do that, and it won’t actually do what you want to do because it’s a skills development thing. It’s like writing down Michael Jordan’s, you know, key insights on, on completing the flying dunk. It doesn’t work that way. You got to get out on the court.

Peter: Right, right, right, right. I hear that. I just.

Jesse: I hear your frustration. 

Peter: If I believe in the modeling and measurement, if I believe, or at least the unpacking of, things like psychological safety and accountability and autonomy and mastery and purpose. And maybe these are components that are more bounded, manageable, specific. And as you said about this gestalt is what happens when you pull all this together and something emerges. Something grows out of that that isn’t as easy to define, or in and of itself is multivalent because there’s so many trust vectors and trying to capture it, it’s like trying to capture….

Jesse: It’s eating soup with chopsticks.

Peter: Yeah. Yeah. Eating soup with chopsticks. I was thinking capture a candle flame ‘cause the act of capturing it snuffs it out.

And maybe that’s the reality, which… that doesn’t sit well with me.

Jesse: Well, I mean, this is, it’s all continuing and ongoing and unfolding. You know… 

Peter: Fuck you. I’m going to model trust.

Jesse: I trust your model. I’m sure I will.

Peter: Well, and maybe trust is too, it’s not ephemeral, it’s real and it

exists. But is it is unbounded. It’s like how people used to think of the ether, right?

It’s kind of everywhere. It kind of just pervades, and there’s degrees of it, but it’s not a thing you point at and go, yes, I have trust. Okay.

I will have to, uh, there’s something, almost Zen koan-like about this where you just kind of have to accept the…

Jesse: Yeah, I feel like we’ve brought you to the point of spiritual crisis and, I should let you integrate this new understanding of the cosmos.

Peter: I need to, I need to meditate now or at least take a walk. 

Well, that has been a somewhat mind-bendy and at times challenging episode of Finding Our Way. Thank you, Jesse.

As always, we are interested in what you have to say. Maybe you have models for trust that you can share with us or resources that we should be digging into.

You can find us on Twitter. I’m @peterme, he’s @jjg. You can find us on our website, https://findingourway.design/. We have a contact form there. That we eagerly read what people send us, and we’d love to hear what you think. So, please reach out and thank you again, for all those who have been giving us feedback as we’ve been getting this off the ground, it’s been great to hear from you and we look to hear from you more.

So with that, we say goodbye to another episode of Finding Our Way. 

Jesse: Thanks, Peter. 

One thought on “10: We Have Trust Issues

  1. Guys, I’m really enjoying the podcast. So, first, thanks for putting your conversation out there for folks like me to follow.

    I wanted to comment on this central concept of trust. Peter, your desire for a model made me think of the ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team,’ both a model of teamwork and a snappy read by Patrick Lencioni (https://www.tablegroup.com/topics-and-resources/teamwork-5-dysfunctions/#5dmodel).

    In Lencioni’s conception, trust is not about predictability; trust is about feeling confident enough with one’s peers to be vulnerable, willing to admit mistakes or weaknesses and to bring up concerns without fear of reprisals.

    Everything that is needed for a successful team is built on trust.

    Here’s his thinking: 1) without trust the team will not be genuine with one another, 2) so they avoid conflict, creating an absence of passionate, open debate. This in turn leads to 3) avoidance of commitment because team members do not buy into the decisions that are made. This leads to 4) team members avoiding accountability, unwilling to call each other out on actions and behaviors that are counterproductive to the team. Finally, failing to call one another out allows 5) inattention to results to thrive as team members start putting their individual needs (ego, career advancement, recognition) above the collective goals of the team.

    It’s a clear, hierarchical relationship that fits nicely into a pyramid-shaped model. 🙂

    But to Jesse’s point, trust is more than a step in a model. It’s one of those things that for it to mean anything, it needs to be experienced directly. Discussing models and case studies is a great place to start, but building trust requires practice over time.

    In my experience, the leader of the team is instrumental in creating trust. A good leader can help the team understand the need for trust, make time for the team to prioritize trust, and demonstrate through their actions daily how to build trust among team members.

    Thanks for letting contribute to the conversation. I look forward to the next conversation.

    Best – Dave


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