How to build deeper trust, faster

A critical currency for leaders is trust. To lead effectively, we need to build and nurture trust with partners, subordinates, colleagues, clients, superiors, boards and other stakeholders. In a world that is becoming more integrated and where constellations often change rapidly, our ability to build deeper trust, faster, is critical to our securing impact and creating value.

In many of the leadership development programs I run, participants share with me that they are comfortable about building trust over an extended period – when they have months or years at their disposal, but they struggle to establish deep trust, rapidly. We don’t always have the luxury of ample time so the question of how to build deep trust, rapidly, is an important one.

And it is possible. Let me give an example.

I recently worked on an international collaboration program with participants based in Scandinavia, the Middle East and East Asia. The constellation was brought together rapidly to design and produce a complex document that required skills in many different domains. The ten participants in our team belonged to six different organizations. They were hand-picked based on their expertise in the required domains – but many of us had never met, let alone collaborated in any way. We had two weeks to get to know one another, establish trust, agree rules of engagement, clarify roles and responsibilities, design our document, produce it and deliver it. The collaboration was exciting. It can be energizing to work with a new team, but none of us knew how this group of people would end up working together.

The team turned out to be productive – after addressing some initial confusion. I felt confident that we would succeed when I observed one team member (let us call him Nils) expressed his opinion of another team member (let us call him Mo Pien): “I trust this man almost blindly.” That is, of course, a strong statement. But it is particularly strong given that Nils and Mo Pien had never met, came from different countries, lived in very different places (Middle East and East Asia), and had different backgrounds. (Nils and Mo Pien have still have not met – though they have the intent to get face-to-face at some point).

As I reflect on how this team built trust in under a week, using only phone and e-mail, it struck me how four factors contributed. Team members demonstrated i) credibility, ii) reliability, iii) intimacy and iv) low self-orientation.


Each team member brought their unique expertise to the table and made the choice to use it. They proactively shared ideas. They advocated forcefully when they felt strongly about a point. They asked insightful questions and challenged groupthink.


The team members delivered their contributions on time. They performed reviews on time and they held no punches when they gave comments. They offered incisive, respectful critique, predictably.


The team members shared, appropriately, what was going on in their lives, and how this affected the time they had available and how they could contribute. Just as importantly, they demonstrated an ability to see the world from the angle of other team members. For example, when a team member did not meet expectations and was challenged, he or she would acknowledge that it was understandable that another team member felt let down – even frustrated. They would then proceed to rectify the situation to make sure they delivered.


Each team member made it clear, through words and actions, that they focused on success for the client and the team, rather than on personal glory. People were helpful to one another and went out of their way to support others.

Many of us have one or two elements with which we are more comfortable. We may for example excel in the areas of credibility and reliability. In order build deeper trust, faster, we need to fire on all cylinders. When done with authenticity and integrity, this is not Machiavellian. It is a worthy effort to make the world around us a better place. We know that teams with high levels of trust perform better. And at the macro level, we know that the economy of trust-based cultures tends to thrive; there is simply less need to validate and verify all the time. By observing others who have distinctive strengths, we can learn to fire on more cylinders. For example, the person who is strong on credibility and reliability may choose to open up and share a little more from the personal sphere. Or they may choose to make their intent explicit at the start of a meeting, making it clear that they are working in the interest of the other party.

As I have coached and mentored more than a thousand people over preceding decades, I have seen them strengthen their ability to build deeper trust, faster. It is well worth the effort.

In the book The Trusted Advisor, Maister, Green and Galford bring together these factors in a nice mnemonic – the trust equation.

Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.