Photo by  Karina Vorozheeva  on  Unsplash

It's this time of year when my team and I start building our strategy for next year — we're always thinking about it, but it's now that we start to have conversations about our intent, our values and how we're going to bring them to life in the next calendar year. I really enjoy the conversations, insights and at times serendipity that happens when some planets align, and others swing in and out of orbit.

It's exciting to dream a little and then, take a step towards that dream however humble it may be.

I can only have these strategic, and sometimes very personal conversations because I trust the people I work with and I feel that they trust me, not by some remarkable twist of fate, but because we have earned each others trust through small, micro-interactions that reinforce, confirm and align our values and support of one another.

Strong teams fascinate me.

The New Zealand All Blacks, the world's most successful sporting team, built a culture of trust by focussing on behaviours that reinforced humility and authenticity — in turn, they created a team of leaders. I find this endlessly inspiring.

I feel grateful to be able to have worked with, and have met so many people through the work I do. From boards to CEOs to students and everything in between. I’m also grateful to have worked with a wonderful range of people over the course of my career and it’s because of this sea of people that have come in and out of my life over the years, that I’ve come to appreciate greatly the attribute of trust within a team.

This week, in a meeting with a reader of this journal, I was duly reminded of an analogy the CEO of Shopify uses called The Trust Battery.

It sounds strange but stay with me here ...

Tobias Lütke uses this mental model to communicate a common sense approach to understanding how trust works between two people — the idea is that when two people meet one another, their 'trust batteries' are charged at 50%. An assumption is made that we are all here for good reason and not out to cheat one another so therefore we begin by giving one another the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, our trust batteries are half charged already.

The charge then continues to rise or lower as the relationship develops through small, meaningful interactions where each person supports and acts on their responsibilities and accountabilities, or not.

  • sharing ideas with one another

  • acting on promises

  • expanding on another person’s idea

  • taking over or supporting when the other person seems overwhelmed

  • sharing vulnerabilities and weaknesses

  • being open to feedback

These, and many more positive interactions charge the trust battery and you may find that some relationships may ‘charge their batteries’ at upwards of 80%.

Other interactions (and in turn, people) sap the energy out of our trust battery, altogether lowering the score between two people.

  • not keeping promises

  • leaving loose ends

  • carrying a persona of arrogance or lack of vulnerability

  • not sharing knowledge or teaching others

  • acting against yours, or the organisation's values

  • letting people down

The list goes on and you can see, as simple as it is, the metaphor makes sense.

Trust it seems is the basis for any group of people to work together well. When it degrades, the team falls apart, or individuals find their way out. Tobias puts it well in that the metaphor allows us to talk about something that at times, can be a little awkward to face:

“I think it’s useful to have this metaphor between people because it allows you to talk about the trust that exists between two people without actually becoming personal. So much about working in teams is the way you communicate working together, the way you give each other feedback.”

And, I agree — there seems to be a falsehood established in some teams where everything is always perfect. Where everything is always happy, good and stable. Where failure isn't an option and we simply cannot have bad days.

This isn't reality. We all have shit days, we all fail and we all at times, completely fuck things up. Other times we win, we succeed and we build great businesses, healthy working environments and we win awards for the things we do — and round and around the world spins.

How we handle these things is what counts. How we talk about our failures and how we conduct ourselves when a teammate unravels is the measure of us and the guiding light for how people will trust one another.

Trust is built, not through constant perfectionism and success, but through human interaction, support, humility and kindness. Through authentic interactions, not falsehoods and overpromises. Through supporting one another, even when it's uncomfortable. Through turning up on days when we simply can't find it in us to do so and from not letting one another down.

After all, trust arrives like a tortoise and vanishes like a hare.

What % charge is your battery with:

  • your employer?

  • your partner?

  • your best friend?

  • the person you sit next to at work, or on the bus?

  • yourself?

You can listen to the full episode of the interview with Tobias Lütke here.

If you're interested in how teams work and the trust between people, here are some articles from the archive of my weekly journal — password (deuce):