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Building trust across teams

4 min read


This post is by Thomas Kayser, who worked for Xerox in the area of organizational effectiveness for 30 years. He is the author of two books: “Building Team Power: How to Unleash the Collaborative Genius of Teams for Increased Engagement, Productivity, and Results” and “Mining Group Gold: How to Cash in on the Collaborative Brain Power of a Team for Innovation and Results.” E-mail Tom.

While working at Xerox, one of the tasks I had the pleasure of performing for many years was to facilitate a three-hour segment at our annual “Developing Executives” orientation within the development and manufacturing organizations. While I did many exercises to help high-potential individuals better understand the behavior of great leaders, I always made sure to use a portion of that time for them to wrestle with this question:

“What do you believe are the core operating principles all team members — including the manager — need to live by, on a daily basis, in order to develop trust within and across work teams?”

We would develop ideas in subteams, share them with the whole group and debate merits of the ideas. Over the years, a vital set of behaviors emerged that became known as the “Trust Operating Principles” across D&M. What these behavioral principles evolved into was a small set for managers to perform routinely and a set for managers and teammates to carry out on a routine, collaborative basis.

So if you are looking for ways to build trust within and across you teams and functions, there is no better place to start than right here. Remember: Trust is the road over which everything else rides!


Believe in us — our motives, knowledge and skills

  • Get to know each team member’s capabilities, interests and skills.
  • Understand the process capability of your full team and build on it.
  • Share information with team members that will allow them to understand their tasks and how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • Have faith in team members to set appropriate objectives.
  • Delegate decision-making authority: We want it; we need it; we won’t abuse it.
  • Negotiate realistic expectations, then have faith in team members’ ability to deliver what we are being paid to do.

Provide honest business communication

  • Share good and bad results.
  • Tell the truth — always; no sugar coating, no politics, no spin doctoring.

Managers and Teammates

Demonstrate open, honest communication at all times

  • Your word is your bond!
  • Share information that is important to others — no hidden agenda.
  • Explain reasons behind statements, requests and decisions.
  • Recognize fruitful friction as a key to critical thinking, and respect another teammate’s right to disagree.
  • Criticize constructively by sticking to the issue and not getting personal.
  • Demonstrate that you are listening with understanding — even if you disagree — by periodically clarifying and confirming what others are saying.

Make realistic commitments and keep them

  • If you say it, do it!
  • Do not overcommit. Know your process capability so you can make realistic commitments to one another.
  • Admit you don’t know something versus giving a wrong answer or making a false promise.
  • If you find, because of changing circumstances, you can’t keep your commitment, renegotiate it.

Work together

  • Be responsive to one another’s needs by offering, and accepting, assistance.
  • Welcome the messenger who brings bad news at the earliest possible opportunity because this maximizes one’s ability to deal with it.
  • Form natural and informal subteams to “move the ball forward” and accomplish tasks that are critical but languishing.
  • Bring potential solutions to the table along with the problem.

Discuss these with your teammates, commit to them, live by them and feel trust begin to grow.

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