Trust: The Essential Element of Effective Teams


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Trust is an essential part of any effective team. It is the bond that holds teams together and it is one of the most important elements to develop and maintain in any relationship. The lack of trust breads uncertainty and hinders the collective functionality of any group of individuals. For this reason, it is important to not only develop trust in relationships but maintain a high level of trust so that the relationships remain intact and able to continually grow stronger.

Being able to trust another individual fully not only pertains to being able to trust what they say but also being able to trust how they act, their abilities and their integrity. It means to be able to rely on another individual to follow through with their commitments and to uphold the unspoken bonds of the relationship that you have formed with them. It is something that is built over time by many small actions and reference situations building upon one another to create a foundation of trust.

The bonds of trust are unfortunately often much easier to break than they are to form in the first place and the effects of a single betrayal of trust can be long-lasting and very detrimental to a relationship. For this reason we must be very careful of the way we communicate and act in relationships to establish and maintain our integrity at all times.

When my father, mother, brother, sister and I set out to attempt Mount Everest in 2008, one of the greatest advantages we had, and I believe one of the key factors in our success, was the strong trust we had developed with one another throughout our lives. One of the reasons why there is only about a 30% success rate for climbers attempting to reach the summit is that teams fall apart from lack of trust and respect. Being members of the same family, we had spent most of our lives building this trust relationship with one another. There were a number of important advantages that this gave us; advantages that teams members who had not developed a strong level of trust would be at a great disadvantage.

Here are a few of the major advantages that we had. Firstly, it allowed each of us to focus on certain tasks at times and rely on other team members to complete other tasks. This turned out to be a crucial aspect of our efficiency because almost all the time one or more of us was too sick or too weak to accomplish certain tasks. Chopping and collecting ice to melt for drinking water, for example, was often a daunting task and the strongest member of the team at the time would generally take these physically more demanding tasks and rely on the weaker or sicker members to take up the slack on other tasks. Similarly, when it came to making important decisions, it can be very difficult to make good decisions because your mind is operating at reduced mental capacity due to the decreased oxygen availability. A lot of poor decisions are often made by climbers at high altitude and we were no exception to this trend. However, we had the advantage that we could confidently share the difficult decisions and responsibilities and essentially combine our mental capacities to minimize the errors and lapses in judgment that we experienced. We were thus able to pool our knowledge to make educated decisions in spite of the low oxygen environment.

Because of the trust we had developed throughout our lives, we had a true interest in each other’s success and safety and it gave us a sense of security that the other team members were looking out for each of us. For a team that had not developed the strong bond of trust, this would be true to a much lesser extent. Climbers who are relative strangers, I believe, are more apt to look out primarily for themselves when lives are on the line and it takes the development of trust to change that instinctive response into a response of looking out for the team as a whole. As a family team we also didn’t feel hesitant or scared about putting our lives in each other’s care. There were many situations on the mountain where this was a must. From helping each other balance across the aluminum ladders spanning the deep crevasses in the Khumbu icefall to securing and inspecting each other’s gear and equipment, we were often confiding in each other safekeeping to minimize the danger and keep us alive.

We had developed trust as a family and as a team through the many past experienced we had gone through together. These reference experiences are very important. It takes time and effort to develop trust and a lot of factors can come into play. One of the most prevalent factors is proven reputation from past successes. The outcomes from similar judgment calls other individuals make often gives insight into how they will fare with analogous decisions. If you know someone who frequently makes poor decisions whether in their own lives or directly when dealing with others, it is difficult to put your trust in them when moving forward into new experiences with them. Any negative experiences between individuals will result in grave set-backs in the trust development process. It can be very difficult to forgive and forget when someone betrays your trust and on a deeper subconscious level sometimes betrayals are never able to be forgotten. The human mind will subconsciously recall these reference experiences when deciding to trust in another individual in any given situation.

At the end of the day, the true colors of ourselves and those around us eventually come to the surface we are seen for who we really are. By always delivering on promises and commitments and being consistent and honest in our behavior we are able to show those around us that we can be trusted. With reciprocation from those around us, the bonds of trust in relationships are strengthened.

In a team environment, trust between each of the individuals acts like a web to hold the team together and allow the team to function as a single unit. Once this level of trust is achieved, the effectiveness and ability of the team is much greater than the sum of the abilities of each of each individual alone. It allows the team members to rely on and build on one another to effectively achieve whatever the team has set its sights on.