Trust Makes a Winning Team

What is Trust?

“Trust me” is as common a phrase as “Good Morning” in our everyday conversations.  And yet as ubiquitous as the words are, there is an astonishing lack of it, very often on teams.  It is one of the top reasons teams fail to accomplish goals, and in its absence, people feel misused, frustrated and isolated. So what is trust anyway Many struggle to define it and others say they will know it when they feel it.  But can’t we do better than that?

If you continue to work hard and trust me, I will bring everyone back alive”.  Ernest Shackleton, the famous explorer, said calmly to his crew of 28 men after their ship had sunk in the frozen waters of Antarctica 100 years ago.  His men, who had been living for ten months on a ship stuck in immovable ice, looked at their leader and believed him. They trusted that he would do as he said. And he delivered on his promise, bringing all back alive and well after a two year ordeal.

Shackleton delivered on the top three indicators of trust:

1. Results Oriented

Once hope of reaching the South Pole was dashed, he quickly adopted a new goal and that was bringing all back alive.  To that end, every day was designed around the health and well being of the crew. He kept them busy and created a team like environment where they hunted and ate meals together and enjoyed many a happy evening entertaining each other and actually planning their next trip to Alaska! Each day was one of pushing forward, until finally, almost two years later, they emerged intact and in good enough shape that some of them entered WWI and others joined Shackleton on his next Antarctica expedition

2. Integrity

Shackleton faced the reality of their situation with honesty and transparency.  He was a leader who was visible and often sought the opinion of all.  He was consistent in his behavior, which caused a calmness, almost a serenity, among the men.  Their diaries reveal that although they knew they were in a dangerous situation, they felt a sense of stability and, often, were having the time of their lives.

3. Concern for Others

Shackleton took care of his men whether it was giving his gloves away during a tortuous open boat journey, carrying one ashore who could no long walk or disciplining a bully.  He did not scapegoat a would be mutineer who returned to the fold. He understood the photographer’s insatiable need for attention and allowed him to share his tent.

Trust on Teams- Three key questions to ask:

Granted, not every team is in such a serious survival situation as Shackleton’s team during the 1914-1916 expedition.  However, these three questions can provide a great way to discuss the level of trust on your team:

  • Are we following through on goals and how open are we to discussing difficult issues?
  • Are we willing to confront reality?  How open are our agendas?
  • How much respect do we show toward others and demonstrate our willingness to build on the ideas of others?

To find out more about this remarkable leader and his epic Antarctic adventure, or to learn how you can bring this story alive in your next leadership meeting, go to