A common feature of effective teams within which I have worked has always been trust. Trust in both directions; trust that I have in the team, and trust that the team has in me as an individual. This is alongside the trust that leaders have shown in me.

There are many theories on “what trust is” within an organization, but two resonate with me more than others:
Flores: Building Trust/Trust as a mood
Bryk and Schneider: Relational Trust/Trust in Schools

Trust as a mood (Flores)

Trust is a mood that involves many related assessments. It is not spontaneous or arbitrary, it is built on relationships where we demonstrate real concern about the wellbeing of others and manage our commitments rigorously. It is built on four fundamentals:

Fundamentals of Trust

Sincerity: the seriousness with which commitments are made; promises are made where the intention is for them to be fulfilled to a good standard. While this can be based on prior interactions, sometimes, we have to make quick judgements of people. This is often related to the way in which people approach trust; how much risk are they willing to take to receive any potential reward or opportunity?

Competence: an assessment of the ability to complete a promise within a specific domain. It is important to understand here that this is not general competence, but instead, competence in a specific field. For example, if I promised to cook a Michelin star meal, my knowledge and competence within that domain is low, so the assessment of trust of any promises made in that domain would be low. However, if I promised to complete a presentation of how cognitive science can be used in the classroom, my competence in this area is greater, and therefore the assessment in trust is more favourable.

Reliability: the ability for a person to deliver on their promises in a timely and repeatable manner. We often tie reliability in with repeatability; repeated performance means that someone is reliable. However, there is more to reliability than just this. Someone can be reliable in the sense that you know the correspondence you will get from them will be timely and clear. They manage their promises effectively, revoking them when appropriate, to ensure the dignity of the relationship remains.

Engagement: a measure of how committed an individual or team are to the future well-being of the individuals and the team, and therefore the likelihood and possibility for future work together. This is an assessment regarding the future of a relationship. While high levels or low levels of engagement are necessarily good or bad, they can affect the level of trust, especially within in a team.

Relational Trust (Bryk and Schneider)

Relational trust refers to the interpersonal social exchanges that take place within a group or team. Trust is built through day-to-day social exchanges within a community and supports a moral imperative to help deliver the difficult work of improvement. It helps to encourage accountability for shared standards, but also allows people to have autonomy and support for their own individual efforts.

Developing relational trust reduces the vulnerability that individuals feel when asked to take on tasks connected to reform, and increases the safety needed to experiment with new practices.


Respect: Listening to and valuing the opinion of others within the team. By listening to others, and engaging with their opinion, trust builds and people feel that they can say what is one their mind within the team. Respect is built through hearing the concerns of those that leaders are working with and leaving themselves in a position open to influence.

Personal Regard for Others: taking actions that extend beyond the formal role of individuals, ensuring actions are taken to reduce the vulnerability that staff feel. Trust is earned through caring about the personal and professional lives of the staff they lead. While reducing vulnerability it also increases social affiliation, therefore increases the feeling of being part of a larger community rather than an individual.

Competence: How well a leader fulfils their duties and responsibilities. An example of this could be the speed at which parents and staff judge a leaders competence at keeping a building safe or improving the safety of a building when a problem is identified, therefore decreasing, or increasing the level of trust.

Integrity: the link between what a person says and what they do; does the leader walk the walk or only talk the talk. This is also linked to how difficult situations or conversations are handled; are they tackled even-handedly and in the best interests of the core business of the organisation, such as improved student outcomes?

Note: It is important to note that in the work of Flores and Bryk and Schneider, the fundamentals and attributes that make up trust are not always interdependent on each other. For example we may trust a leader’s competence, and reliability, but have a lower level of trust of their engagement or integrity.

My experiences of trust

When I have trusted in leaders, or teams that I have been working with, I have noted a few common features; the commitment to growth of staff and teams, and the promise of transparency in communication and processes.

Commitment to Growth

Leaders and teams that I have trusted have helped me grow, not only in a personal sense but also in a professional sense. I have learnt new knowledge and developed new skills that without the situation I was in, would be harder to come by. My trust developed through being put in a situation that led to growth through challenge, and through leaders recognising the hard work that I put in.


Through leaders putting me in situation where I felt challenge that led me to grow, I learnt to trust their judgement and knowledge of what I was good at and capable of. They had seen the potential in me and were commitment to develop it further.


When leaders have recognised the work that I have done, either publicly or in private, it has demonstrated the sincerity they had to the commitments they have made. This was not a task that was given to me to keep me busy, but something they wished to follow through on and check in with personally.

Promise of Transparency


Through leaders giving me autonomy and safety to complete work in the way I wish, they have given me the discretion I need to deliver on tasks and projects in the way that I see fit. This trust in me is reciprocated through me trusting the leader in return.


When leaders have asked for help, it has increased my trust in a leader. This has demonstrated to me that they are secure in the own competence as a leader, and have an understanding of their own knowledge, reliability and integrity. They have understood that if they are to deliver on the promises they put in place, they need to enlist the help of others.

Clearly, trust can be earned, but trust is also not universal. Just because we trust a personal within one domain, it does not mean we trust them in all; I would not trust my line manager to cut my hair, but I would trust them to develop my career! It requires both parties involved in the transaction to approach the situation understanding their own thoughts and feeling of each other, the task at hand, and their role in the bigger picture.

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