How we made the trust fall

Why we focus on trust to help build the highest-performing teams on the planet

Many of us think of trust as a feeling, but a feeling is simply a human emotion. Trust is, in fact, a belief. A belief is a feeling that has been rationalized or justified by that particular human being. What this tells us is that we cannot “make” anyone trust us - all we can do is behave in a way that allows someone to make the decision to trust us. That decision is based on what we do for one another.

The Attributes

Trust Fall Origins

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Why the worldest highest-performing teams prioritize high trust over high performance

Hi, I'm Rich, the founder of The Attributes. When I was in charge of selection training for one of our specialized SEAL commands, it was something I took very seriously. We brought the best SEALs to our command and put them through a specially designed selection process. After some time, it wasn’t clear to us why some of the guys were not making it through the selection process. To put it differently, our explanations as to why guys weren't making it through were not satisfactory. After thinking about this further, I met with a friend who was running basic SEAL training to talk with him about some ideas.

What he said made me look at things differently. He described a chart he had found with performance on the Y-axis, and trust on the X-axis. One might think that the Navy SEALs focus only on the performance aspect of the team. This makes sense... High-performance is visible and can be measured in many different ways. However, trust is different, it’s not immediately visible, and therefore a bit more difficult to measure and assess... But for Navy SEALs, trust is often more valuable than performance when it comes to working on a team.

Here are the categories broken down:

Low-performing / low trust

Obviously, this is the kind of person we do not want to see on our team.

Low-performing / high trust

At first this person might be seen as less valuable than some because of the lack of performance, but we need to break down what performance is. Most performance is something that can be trained. Looking further into this person, we see a high level of trust. I don’t know about you, but I would find it a lot more difficult to train someone how to trust and be trusted, versus helping them improve their performance. While the performance may not initially be there, limitless potential exists in someone with a high level of trust.

High-performing / low trust

This is the person we need to be wary of. A person like this will appear to be a good asset to a team, but in reality can be a toxic leader and team member. In the business world, we don’t often see the fault in this person. We may get convinced by the “high-performance / low trust” person because you can clearly see the performance part, but the trust is hidden. The fact is that usually, despite appearances, this person is not the most valuable on a team. A strong team does not rely only on performance, but on trust.

High-performing / high trust

This is an ideal teammate and leader, and the kind of person we should strive to become.

Who do you want on your team?

With these different types of leaders and teammates, I want to point out something very important. I would much rather work with a “low-performing / high trust person” versus a “high-performing / low trust person”. The way I see it, trust is what makes high-performance possible on a team, not the other way around. In the business world especially, it’s important we are not deceived by people with a high rate of performance, but low trust. These are not the kind of people we want to be working for or with. The highest functioning team in the world puts more importance on the Attributes that build trust rather than just performance. If we emphasize trust in the groups and teams we belong to, it will help us achieve our goals more than anything else can.

Since leaving the Navy, I've had the opportunity to work with hundreds of companies across a wide range of industries. I've found that #1 reason why teams fail — that is, when they are unable to remain together as a group — it is almost always because of a lack of trust on some level. That's why we created The Trust Fall: an online assessment to help leaders and managers measure their teams' trust levels, and learn how to improve, build, or restore trust.