A fundamental impediment in human interactions is trust or the lack of trust.

  • Can I trust my partner or spouse, manager, employer, employee, and teammates?
  • Do I naturally trust people or not?
  • Are some cultures more inclined to trust while in other cultures, trust may have to be earned?
  • In our increasingly global and virtual work places, how do we build and maintain trust?
  • Can trust be taught in a training program?

Three weeks into a three-month project, the leader of a team of Indian software engineers brought to the United States to work with their American colleagues decided to call off the project. The team was supposed to build a new software platform for their global, European-based pharmaceutical company. Instead, the team leader decided the Indian engineers should return to India because there was simply no trust between the two groups. To salvage the project, an organization that specializes in building team trust was called in, and in a matter of one-and-a-half days, it was able to identify the factors causing the lack of trust and start the teams back on track to complete the project on time.

There is now substantial research on the impact of trust on team and organizational performance. Stephen M.R. Covey, author of the bestseller The Speed of Trust said, “Training programs that promote trust have proven to speed up performance and therefore profitability.” He further explained that trust is the primary factor in selecting Forbes’s 100 Best Companies To Work For. In fact, as much as 50 percent of the value in identifying these companies is based on trust. Covey also pointed out that the companies on the list out-perform comparable companies by 280 percent in total return for investors.  

Types of trust 

In training programs that promote trust there is a need to distinguish between trust based on competency (I believe that you can do your job) and trust based on character or integrity (I believe you will do what you say). Uncovering the hidden assumptions behind these two factors is critical to the success of any training solution. 

Trainers also must address the many factors that affect the propensity to trust. These can vary by individual, leadership, team, business unit, organization, and national culture. Sometimes propensity to trust is a result of historical and societal factors (Can I trust someone from another group?). In some cultures there is an expectation that everyone is trustworthy until proven otherwise; in other cultures, you are not considered trustworthy until you prove it by your performance. The impact of these differences can seriously undermine the effectiveness of a multicultural team. 


A proactive training program that addresses trust and builds in a sustainability platform will result in higher levels of engagement and performance. Any trainer doing training in this area must be able to demonstrate their own authenticity, character, and competency if they expect participants to trust them with their own hidden concerns about trust. 

Unfortunately, many times trainers are called in to repair damaged relationships where trust is no longer operational. In the case described above, trust was undermined by several important cultural differences. One had to do with the fact that the Indian engineers saw themselves as guests in America and expected to be treated as they would treat guests in India, where there would be much more engagement after work.  

According to one Indian engineer, “They do not care about us as people. They only want to get the job done. We go back to our hotels and never see them.” Secondly, the Indian employees in this case expected the Americans to oversee all of their work and guide them if they were doing something wrong. The Americans took a hands-off approach, assuming that the Indian engineers would call on them if they had an issue. As a result, problems that could have been resolved early escalated. In some cases the Indian employees would complete a task and await further instructions from their American colleagues while the Americans were waiting for their Indian colleagues to take the initiative and ask to go to the next task. Each saw the other as untrustworthy. 

By holding a team building program built around the meaning and demonstration of trust, the underlying differences soon became apparent to all, and as a result all members of the team agreed on new rules of engagement. The end result is that the project ended on time, and the leader of the team estimated the savings to the organization to be equal to six months of work. 

If you have done any training on the topic of trust and would like to share your experiences, worst cases or best practices, with the readers of this column, please send them to me at ngoodman@global-dynamics.com and I will compile them for a future column. 


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