The Trust Index: How Series A founders can develop a cohesive team
by Jane Reddin
How difficult would it be to work with someone you don’t trust? I’ve asked this question at interviews for 25 years and despite the Hollywood portrayal of the uber-successful megalomaniac founder, most early-stage leaders strongly agree that trust is a vital ingredient in their team of choice.
Trust underpins enduring performance
At AlbionVC, we always ask: what is the best team to achieve the growth strategy? As a founder, it’s not just about who you hire, but what you can achieve together. Team effectiveness is the key which unlocks sustained growth.
At Series A, the leadership team is often in early formation, so what should you focus on to get the best out of your lean team? I believe trust underpins the effectiveness of a Series A leadership team by adding cohesion and resilience to the performance equation. It is, as our AlbionVC women in leadership conversations highlighted, the bedrock of any enduring high-performing team.
That’s because trust lays the foundation for developing psychological safety, where people say what’s true with compassion and challenge without defensiveness. Trust generates a team spirit that can surf the inevitable set-backs. It develops a team that is able to regenerate and expand by connecting to its own power source. It fosters a team where individuals raise their game, where there’s an unwavering commitment to deliver on promises, where there’s an intention to give first. In a high-trust team, people have got each other’s back and align behind a belief that ‘we can achieve more together’.
However, given that trust is an intangible concept often experienced as an instinct or feeling, how can you successfully measure and develop it? I’ve set out to decode the ‘trust instinct’ into something more measurable, which can be used as a lever for accelerating cohesion, resilience and results in a team: The Trust Index.
Measuring trust with the Trust Index
The Trust Index currently contains six key factors that Series A leaders can use to determine the levels of trust in their team and includes:
Authenticity — Trusting teams have high levels of transparency, inclusivity, integrity and reliability, sprinkled with humour. They are psychologically safe. Check for the factor by asking:
- Do we communicate a healthy ratio of good and bad news?
- Do team members involve multiple colleagues in projects or the same group of favourites?
- Do we use it, not lose it? How much do people show irrational emotional volatility?
Disagree and Commit — Healthy, non-personalised disagreement and proactive debate is essential for productive growth.
- Do individuals show signs of mutual respect and deep listening to understand when engaging in constructive conflict?
- Do colleagues respond to feedback appreciatively or defensively?
- Do we show passion but avoid personal criticism?
GSD — Trusting teams consist of proactive, hard-working individuals who deliver on their promises.
- Do we set clear, agreed and measurable goals?
- Do we match a can-do attitude with audacious challenges?
- Have we created our own power source as a team? Do we sustain our hard work and discipline by training hard and resting well?
Accountability — Shared responsibility and autonomy underpins shared growth and winning.
- Are mistakes called out quickly, without judgement or blame?
- Is there a two-way feedback loop with evidence of reflection and learning?
- Are tough decisions taken with a sensitive ruthlessness?
Bounce — Trust fuels a team which believes in the long-term win, learns and gains confidence from failures and sustains the mental toughness to stay where others fade away.
- Are we resilient and adaptive in the face of adversity?
- Do we confidently come up with creative solutions under pressure?
- Do we ask what we can learn from failure rather than who to blame?
Shared Purpose — A united ‘why’ in a team which seeks to give first. Prioritising the ‘collective’ over the ‘self’ enables individual drivers to be present while the overarching mission remains paramount.
- Ask yourself: would my colleague take a bullet for me in a meeting?
- Would my teammate give me credit for something I’ve done when I’m not in the room (especially if it requires self-sacrifice)?
- Do individuals make decisions with an owner mindset?
Cultivating a high Trust-Quotient (TQ) mindset
Planting a trust mindset enables trust behaviours to flourish and it’s the leader’s responsibility to sow the seeds.
The leap from self-reliance to mutual-trust is imperative for scaling and founder leaders can bridge this tricky chasm by developing high ‘trust quotient’ (TQ). Here’s how.
- Discover — Developing the right mindset is the first step to cultivating enduring behaviours. As a leadership team, what are your golden principles — your TQ superfood and your TQ killers — when it comes to trust?
- Share — The team can then distil these into a set of ‘Teamship Rules’ that set the shared trust behaviours you want to cultivate. Elite sports teams have long been using teamship rules as a way of eradicating any relationship issues in the buildup to game day which could hinder whole team performance. For example:
Communication: enquire, don’t accuse. Or chest stab, don’t backstab.
Attitude: don’t walk past it, do it yourself. Provide solutions, don’t raise problems.
Wellbeing: plan ahead and ask for help. Look out for your buddy.
- Show — Trust spreads top down, so the leadership team must become high TQ in order for the whole team to embody a high trust mindset. That means giving trust first before needing to earn it and becoming a role model for your teamship rules.
Trust in the process
You can’t buy trust, but you can cultivate trust by knowing what to look for and embedding it from the top down. At AlbionVC, we’re developing tools to put TQ on the table of every leadership team meal — watch this space. I’d love to hear your ideas to add to this menu.
P.S. a personal hat-tip to David Grimm, Andrew Elder and Terry Russell, who helped me unlock the best bits of the Trust Index.