A few years ago, I attended a session facilitated by Stephen M.R. Covey. Mr. Covey presented his very compelling case for how trust increases the speed (and decreases the cost) of doing business. He was right, higher trust equals greater speed. But he was missing a very important part of the equation–diversity.

I am worried about teams that get to high trust in a very dangerous way—by removing anyone who thinks differently. Sure, these teams get the benefits of the speed of trust. But they move faster because there’s no one left to make them think, to challenge their assumptions, and to push hard for unpopular and uncomfortable discussions. If you want to achieve high performance, you need to do the very hard work of creating trust among people with different perspectives.

The following grid shows the interplay of trust and diversity.

Grid of trust and diversity

There is no question that teams with low trust have sub-optimal performance. But whether there is hope depends on whether these low trust teams have high or low diversity. In the high diversity/low trust scenario, things can get a little rough. Team members can be rigid and accusatory. Voices are often raised but few people are really listening. I think of a team like that as a “Fight Club.” If you find yourself on a team like this, the good news is that you already have diverse perspectives and it is possible to build trust. It could be worse…

What does worse look like? Sometimes a team has neither diversity nor trust. That feels a lot like the “Country Club.” Everyone looks and thinks alike, but the lack of trust manifests in gossip and cliques. Conflict is never out in the open. Nothing ever moves forward. It’s going to be a painful rebuild if you find yourself on a Country Club team.

In contrast, I have worked with several teams with high levels of trust. Again, I experience them differently depending on how much diversity there is on the team. When teams have high trust but little diversity, I think of them as like a “Book Club.” There is certainly high trust, but the lack of diversity means the conversation can be superficial. I call these the Bobble Head teams.

For me, magic occurs when there is both diversity AND trust. The result is truly amazing to watch. The team debates issues fully. They listen to one another and the final decision reflects the value of all team members.

So if you want your team to reap the benefits of the speed of trust, don’t get there by “culling the herd” of people who think differently. That might make things fast, but it will leave your team weaker and with much greater risk. Instead, engage in the hard work of building trust among team members who think differently. Then you get the speed of trust and the quality of diversity.

Further Reading

Be Proactive in Building Trust

What Do I Do if my Teammate Doesn’t Trust Me

Increasing Diversity on Your Team


4 Responses to Trust can’t come at the expense of diversity

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