Trust is a necessary condition for teamwork. You can have trust without teamwork, but you can’t have teamwork without trust.
So what is trust? In my world, trust denotes predictability. I trust someone if they do what they say they’re going to do; i.e., if their words and their actions match.
While trust is usually used in a positive sense, it’s also possible to use it in a negative sense. For example, his potential conquerees could trust the late Attila the Hun to be ruthless, and you can trust that chronically late coworker of yours to let you down the next time you need him to be on time for an important meeting. This being said, let’s focus on trust used in the more positive sense.
How do you decide if a potential new colleague is trustworthy? You can talk with past colleagues or supervisors, or you can administer honesty testing, which, while imperfect, can be helpful (note: get legal advice about your selection procedures). Also, pay attention to your “gut,” or how you feel when you’re with the person.
Here is a gut technique to help you to decide whether someone is trustworthy. I call it the “Foxhole Test,” and I sometimes use it when I’m interviewing a potential new leader for a client organization.
Imagine that you’re a soldier in a foxhole in the Vietnam War. It’s night, and there is one other soldier in the foxhole with you. You’re cut off from your unit and surrounded by the enemy, and you know that there is a good possibility that you could be overrun and killed before dawn. You’re only friend in the world right now is the other person. He must guard your back, and he may be the one that you share your last hours on earth with.
Now look at the person across the table from you. Would he: 1) support you until the end, laugh and cry with you, and make you glad to be part of the human race; or 2) shoot you in the back and then try to convince the enemy that he is sympathetic in order to save his own life? What does your gut tell you? Now, do you want this person on your team?
- Technique #1: Be a trustworthy leader, and do what you say you’re going to do. People pay attention to whether your actions match your words, and people don’t willingly follow someone who is untrustworthy for very long.
- Technique #2: In your selection process, screen for trustworthiness. If you get this wrong, the rest won’t matter. For example, administer the “Foxhole Test” and listen to your gut.
- Technique #3: Trust those who demonstrate that they are untrustworthy to be untrustworthy and part company with them, regardless of their talents and contribution. Make no mistake; they will hurt you and your team sooner or later. Let somebody else try to change their personality and values (good luck).