A Tip From the Military on Building Team Trust

While some of us may think of work as war, we rarely put our life or those of team members on the line getting the Q3 numbers in shape. It's different in the military. There, team members literally depend on each other to stay alive.

Can we in business engender the same trust among team members that soldiers in the field rely upon? Maybe not to the emotional extent that military personnel can feel for each other, but certainly there are lessons to be learned from the military experience that can help any organization, says Lieutenant Colonel Diane Ryan, writing on Harvard Business Publishing.

The big takeaway: Trust is a two-way street. Each team member must earn the trust of others. You as a manager or team leader can't command that it happen. Factors contributing to increased trust include shared values, relationships that foster cooperation, and perceived competence, Ryan says.

To get there, your organization should be asking 6 Questions to Help You Build Trust on Your Team.

Here are three of them:

  1. What are my organization/profession's shared values and culture?
  2. Have these values been articulated within the organization to the point they are internalized and go without saying?
  3. How much do I know about my employees and their families and how well do they know me?
I find this advice extremely useful. When I thought about trust-building before, my focus was on what I as an individual could do to build a strong team. Ryan's insights into the role of an organization in emphasizing shared values is a really powerful way to think about this issue.

Related Reading: When Good Teams Go Bad
Harvard Business School professor Scott Snook, a former military man, coauthors a case study about an Army crew team losing its mojo.