[Update: August 23, 2010. The Team Trust Survey now has its own website, where you can download the survey. Please note that the survey is still free and available for non-commerical use. I invite you to explore the survey and related materials, including video tutorials. Thanks for finding the first post about this tool!]

Team Trust Levels Survey

I want to share with you a sur­vey I put togeth­er to help teams talk about their rela­tion­ships with one anoth­er and take steps to improve them. 

You can down­load it as a pdf here.

This mate­r­i­al first came to mind about six­teen years ago. I hap­pened to be work­ing with the City Coun­cil for a small munic­i­pal­i­ty. The Coun­cil mem­bers had prob­lems talk­ing to each oth­er. In part they were legal­ly bound by leg­is­la­tion that pre­vent­ed sub­groups from infor­mal meet­ings, but pri­mar­i­ly their prob­lems had to do with mis­trust. A reporter was in the room while I worked with the Coun­cil and the next day the head­line in the town’s local news­pa­per read, “Coun­cil rates itself ‑1.” Not exact­ly what I had in mind, but I do think they ben­e­fit­ed, like many teams will, from using some sort of frame­work to dis­cuss per­cep­tions of how well a team is get­ting along inter­nal­ly and work­ing together.

While this is still an “unval­i­dat­ed beta ver­sion of a dis­cus­sion tool,” I have found the sur­vey can bring to the sur­face feel­ings about “how well we are doing” in a rea­son­ably safe man­ner. There’s a vocab­u­lary here to the rat­ings — which range from teams that are +2, mean­ing they are oper­at­ing with unusu­al­ly high per­for­mance and trust, to teams that are ‑2, fun­da­men­tal­ly falling apart. I encour­age you to take the sur­vey your­self and read through the rank­ings and sug­ges­tions. You can do this for any team that you par­tic­i­pate in or lead or sim­ply know about. I’d be grate­ful for your obser­va­tions, ques­tions, and feed­back. Feel free to share it and use it with oth­ers, as long as you are not sell­ing it for mon­ey or broad­ly using it for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es and as long as you attribute it properly.


I don’t think tools like this tell the whole sto­ry, of course. They real­ly are just a place to begin a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion. But I do like them if they lead to pos­i­tive aware­ness of pos­si­bil­i­ties and action steps to improve things — to reach a vision of even bet­ter rela­tion­ships, for exam­ple. That’s my hope — to cre­ate con­scious­ness about who we are and where we are “as a team.” Look­ing over the sur­vey, you’ll see my vision embed­ded in it. In great teams, I believe members:

• can work out their per­for­mance issues together
• devel­op deep dia­logues about per­son­al growth and development
• mean­ing­ful­ly take on the lead­er­ship of the group
• ful­ly col­lab­o­rate with one anoth­er by pool­ing resources
• han­dle tough rela­tion­ship issues openly
• active­ly show appre­ci­a­tion for, sup­port and affirm one another

I’ve found this often to be a very high stan­dard, but not an unat­tain­able one. And once peo­ple under­stand it, they can be intrigued with the pro­found pos­si­bil­i­ties for their own growth and for orga­ni­za­tion­al change. They are often clos­er than they think to oper­at­ing at a high­er lev­el. Any num­ber of times in my career, I’ve seen one or two peo­ple take a group to the next step sim­ply by offer­ing their gen­uine and can­did assess­ment of rela­tion­ships and behav­iors in the group — and by offer­ing a pos­i­tive vision. I believe this is because we fun­da­men­tal­ly want high trust lev­els. We may be tem­porar­i­ly afraid or lack con­fi­dence in our abil­i­ty to achieve them, but a most basic desire, a human thing, is the desire for trust. At a fun­da­men­tal lev­el, per­haps verg­ing on a shared, spir­i­tu­al under­stand­ing of indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive poten­tials, that can be a rich reser­voir for any team to draw upon.

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  • Alo­ha Dan, how gen­er­ous you are shar­ing this with us! I watch your RSS feed reli­gious­ly, and I have already down­loaded your pdf — very anx­ious to read it. 

    Great team­ing is and always will be a worth­while dis­cus­sion to have in the work­place, and I think it may be more impor­tant than ever right now: Jobs and roles are get­ting rein­vent­ed dai­ly, with the gen­er­a­tional shift now occur­ring as more and more boomers retire, or think about their own “sec­ond acts.” I strong­ly believe that cre­at­ing a work­place of stronger, trust­ing teams may be the best means to the end results we are seeking.

  • Thank you, Rosa! I agree that the need for the dis­cus­sion is both peren­ni­al and espe­cial­ly impor­tant now — and you bring up an excel­lent point, that struc­tures such as job roles and well-defined work process­es are often in great flux. Which means, of course, that it is the rela­tion­ships more than ever that car­ry the weight of our abil­i­ty to get things done. Thank you so much for drop­ping by and I hope you enjoy the sur­vey very much! Best to you.

  • Trust Me: You’ll Want This! » Slacker Manager wrote:

    […] Click here to read Dan’s post and to have access to the PDF survey. […]

  • Dan,

    Trust is such a key for me and for every­one I talk about in the work­place. I appre­ci­ate your work on putting this togeth­er, it is print­ing as I write this and I will take a clos­er look. I am remind­ed of the old state­ment: trust is a must or your game is a bust. 

    Peo­ple tend to love inven­to­ries and ques­tion­naires and I will look for an oppor­tu­ni­ty to use this and get you some feedback.

    I will also write a short post on Slack­er Man­ag­er as I am sure man­agers will want to know about this.


  • Thanks for your sup­port, David. I very much appre­ci­ate the chance to get the word out. You are good!

  • I believe one of the key aspects to deter­min­ing the strength of a team is high­light­ed by the lev­els of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in the team.

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in a team real­ly does have the pow­er to influ­ence whether or not the team is going to be a team. 

    And when I say “team”, I don’t mean just by its name. I mean by its func­tion­al­i­ty and true definition. 

    As with every­thing else with­in the team, team com­mu­ni­ca­tion goes through an evo­lu­tion­ary process. I believe there are three basic lev­els in the evo­lu­tion of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of a team. 

    Exact­ly what the name implies. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion process is ordi­nary to say the least: Not in terms of the amount of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but more in terms of its quality. 

    At this lev­el, the con­tent has very lit­tle to do with any­thing that is going to help the team get clos­er to their pre­scribed out­comes. There is very lit­tle com­mu­ni­ca­tion and most­ly noth­ing that will rock the boat of the team. 

    The com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the ‘rub­bish’ lev­el is more social­ly ori­en­tat­ed than pur­pose or per­for­mance orientated. 

    Indi­vid­u­al­ly and in com­bi­na­tion, the team has to start find­ing things out about itself. Where is it head­ing? Why is it not get­ting there? What needs to be done? etc. 

    Once this is realised by the team, both indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion process moves from the ‘rub­bish’ lev­el to a more for­malised and struc­tured process to gath­er and dis­sem­i­nate information. 

    How­ev­er, this process is still done in a very safe manner. 

    The major­i­ty of infor­ma­tion is passed through covert type ques­tions and periph­er­al issue dis­cus­sions. Very rarely does any­one make a direct com­ment or give their opin­ion, or take a stand in front of the team on behalf of the team or any­one with­in it. 

    Rarely, if at all, does any one com­ment direct­ly to any­one what he or she thinks of their per­for­mance in car­ry­ing out their role in front of the team. 

    Views are not going to cause fric­tion as the peo­ple who prob­a­bly need to hear what has to be said, nev­er will. When the team oper­ates at this lev­el, the infor­ma­tion is being exchanged but the team a long way from where they real­ly need to be. No one wants to say any­thing that is going to upset anyone. 

    This is where things that need to get said, start to get said. Opin­ions are aired, con­cepts dis­cussed and argu­ments or heat­ed dis­cus­sions evolve. But the bot­tom line is that the things that need to be aired, dis­cussed, heard and under­stood, are because of the intro­duc­tion of ‘real’ com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in the team and for the team. 

    So — three lev­els of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that every team has at one stage or anoth­er worked through. 

    What ben­e­fit does the advent of “real” com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­vide to and for the team?

    If peo­ple will not say what they feel and what they believe the team needs to hear; and if there is reluc­tance to open­ly com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er, then the team will nev­er ben­e­fit from the expe­ri­ence, insight and knowl­edge of the indi­vid­u­als with­in it.

    If team mem­bers don’t say what they feel, then the team is miss­ing out in so many dif­fer­ent ways that it is almost impos­si­ble to comprehend.

    The great­est prob­lem is that lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with­in any team or group sit­u­a­tion is usu­al­ly a reflec­tion of a lack of trust with­in the team.

    And as we know from what we have been taught and have wit­nessed first hand, with­out the ele­ment of trust with­in the team, you have a team with no foundation.

    And with no true foun­da­tion, you real­ly do not have a team.

    Now I know this all sounds like a huge con­clu­sion derived from the mea­gre fact that a team does not open­ly com­mu­ni­cate, but let me explain this in some fur­ther detail.

    With­out the pres­ence of con­flict­ing opin­ions, open dis­cus­sions and oppos­ing beliefs, there can appear to be (quite under­stand­ably, from the out­side), a strong, unit­ed and har­mo­nious team. 

    How­ev­er, the real­i­ty is that noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

    With the absence of “real” com­mu­ni­ca­tion the team actu­al­ly is sit­ting on a false harmony. 

    And the rea­son there seems to be har­mo­ny is because no-one will say what needs to be said for fear of upset­ting the team or indi­vid­u­als with­in it. 

    Team mem­bers resort to agree­ment for the sake of har­mo­ny: they do not say what they think as they believe this is in the best inter­est of the team. 

    At most, their com­ments are guard­ed or worse, they do not say any­thing or con­tribute in any way.

    They either know how the team will react or they do not know how the team will react. Either way the rea­son is sim­ple. There is no trust.

    They are reluc­tant to say what they think out of fear of how the team will react — because they know they will react. 

    Or they are reluc­tant to say what they feel because they don’t know how the team will react and they don’t trust them enough to just say it anyway.

    The rela­tion­ships with­in the team are not strong enough for the team to dis­cuss or com­mu­ni­cate cer­tain things as to do so will cre­ate tur­moil with­in the team or put strain on cer­tain rela­tion­ships, thus cre­at­ing dis­uni­ty and remov­ing the “harmony”.

    Once again, noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

    Har­mo­ny is great but not when it comes about because peo­ple hold back from say­ing what they think or believe to be in the best inter­est of the team.

    If the team works at the real com­mu­ni­ca­tion and what comes from it, includ­ing how to deal with the aspects of con­flict and occa­sion­al dis­agree­ments that stem from the real com­mu­ni­ca­tion, then the team will become so much clos­er, so much stronger, more trust­ing and there­fore, so much better.

    This is based sim­ply on the fact that “What does­n’t get said in this team just gets worse.” (Jason Smith, Vic­to­ria Titans NBL team, 2001)

    Those who do not speak up or do not speak the truth make it hard for oth­ers with­in the group to trust them. But they don’t say what they believe needs to be said to the team because they don’t believe they can trust the team.

    And there­fore, the entire aspect of “team” breaks down.

    Trust is built when each team mem­ber sees and believes that each oth­er team mem­ber is being true to him or her­self and that their inten­tions and focus are in the best inter­ests of the team.

    The first and fore­most advan­tage of ‘real’ com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the fact that truth builds trust.

    The Jour­ney Continues!

  • Bill, thank you for your pas­sion­ate and plain­spo­ken con­tri­bu­tion here. It is clear you deeply love your work! And you make excel­lent points about the dif­fer­ences between har­mo­ny and gen­uine team work. That’s crit­i­cal to our under­stand­ing of group effec­tive­ness. Best to you.

  • Dan: I pause, take a slow, deep breath, and express my joy at your return to the blo­gos­phere, and my appre­ci­a­tion of your gen­eros­i­ty in shar­ing this trust sur­vey with the world.

    I don’t think I can add much more sub­stance to what you’ve writ­ten, or to the ways oth­ers have already respond­ed. I just want to grate­ful­ly acknowl­edge the trust you are mod­el­ing for us in open­ing up this sur­vey, which rep­re­sent such a wealth of your insights and experiences. 

    I trust that this will lead to more mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sions (espe­cial­ly of [for­mer] undis­cus­si­ables), stronger teams and mutu­al ben­e­fits for every­one … includ­ing, hope­ful­ly, the per­son will­ing to share so open­ly of the pat­terns that have emerged through years of cul­ti­vat­ing trust in a vari­ety of orga­ni­za­tion­al settings.

    Thank you.

  • As always, Joe, thanks for your sup­port­ive com­ments, and in this case, your advice about how best to post the sur­vey. Best to you.

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