The importance of trust

Lencioni’s Trust Pyramid 

Probably THE most important building block of any team is trust. This is because it speaks to the very heart of the human condition. If you trust someone you will be inclined to engage with them professionally. The opposite is also true, if you don’t trust someone, you will be disinclined to engage with them professionally and this makes any sort of productive working relationship almost impossible.

Patrick Lencioni described a pyramid with five layers to outline key characteristics of effective and dysfunctional teams. He places Trust right at the bottom of the pyramid to illustrate that without trust, teams cannot develop, just like a pyramid – without the foundations the rest cannot stay intact. He stacked the rest of the components in order as well, indicating a level of importance for each one. In this module we will look at how the pyramid is constructed for both effective and dysfunctional teams. 

A key point to remember is that teams are made up of people and because of this it is often human characteristics and interactions that will either make a team work well or not. The focus on the human element of teams is very evident in Lencioni’s pyramid as each of the layers contains a very clear attention to the human element of team dynamics. 


As we have already mentioned, the foundation of any team is trust. Without trust the team will most likely fail regardless of any systems and processes that may be in place. Any new leader to a team should work to build trust with their new team as fast and as sustainably as possible. Lencioni talks about the necessity of vulnerability. Team members need to be able to reveal their vulnerabilities without fear of reprisal in order to progress professionally. Leaders within teams should set an example with this. Often where people are able to express their vulnerabilities it is an indication of a team where there are high levels of trust already. And, of course, the reverse is true. 


The next level up is about conflict. It is probable that many people think that conflict is a negative emotion. However, this is not necessarily the case. In teams where there is a fear of conflict there almost certainly exists an artificial harmony within the team which is unnatural and this CAN undermine trust levels within the team. Teams, by their very definition, are made up of different people, with different ideas. There will inevitably be areas of conflict, and effective teams allow for differences to be aired in a constructive and productive manner. 


The next level up is all about commitment. Teams where all members are committed to the vision and ethos of the team will function effectively, where teams that lack commitment won’t. This, to an extent, comes down to support structures and clarity of purpose. A leader who is clear on their vision, and who shares this effectively, creates clarity needed by any team. And then a leader who underpins this vision with systems that can support and enable the team, will inspire commitment from their team members, because they are providing an environment where team members can feel unhindered in their roles. Where there is a lack of commitment in the team it could be down to a number of reasons, apathy, lack of purpose, low wages or any number of other reasons. But the fact remains that where there is a lack of commitment, the team cannot become a high performing team.


All good teams focus part of their attention on putting into place effective accountability measures. It is important to remember that individuals should be held accountable for their individual performances, but often it is forgotten that teams should also be held accountable for their performance as a whole team. This ties in a little bit to the point I made earlier about clarity of purpose and knowing the vision. Where teams know what they are setting out to achieve, they can put into place their own accountability measures and then hold themselves to account. 

A leader’s purpose in this regard is to make sure that the levels of accountability are agreed with their team and then that people are encouraged to hold themselves to account through clear guidelines. Good leaders will develop their teams so that accountability is something which team members take upon themselves to maintain. In a sense it becomes an intrinsic process rather than an extrinsic one. This is what we, as leaders, should aspire to.


And the final piece of the pyramid is the results. Good teams are outcome focussed. They keep in mind what their targets are and they set out to, not only achieve them, but to supersede them. The results that any team manages to achieve will of course be improved if the right tools are in place and it is the team leader’s role to make sure that they keep an eye to this important aspect of leadership. An important point that Lencioni mentions is the need for teams to be focussed on the objectives as a TEAM, this focus doesn’t just fall to the leaders in a team.

As a leader, particularly if you hold a title of responsibility such as Team Leader, your primary role is to ensure the effectiveness of your team. Contrary to what many may think, it is not the leader’s role to be the expert at all the different things that your team needs to accomplish, but the leader’s role is rather to make sure that the right people are doing the right jobs, and that the right tools are there to facilitate operations and achievement. A good leader will work with their teams to make sure that their input is incorporated in these decisions, and then step back to maintain a ‘big picture’ view of how the team is achieving.

If the people are right, the environment is right and there is trust at the foundation of the team’s culture, the team will work hard to achieve well beyond their expectations.


The first takeaway is that effective teams are built on trust. Without it there can be no team.

Secondly, as the team leader, allow people to be open and honest with their opinions and contributions.

Thirdly, if you get all this right, the results will follow and this will be your opportunity to celebrate the results as a whole team.


Patrick Lencioni (2002): The five dysfunctions of a team.

Point of Reflection

Reflect on a positive and a negative experience you’ve had in your work environment, within the past six months. Can you tie these experiences to the layers of Lencioni’s pyramid to give yourself an explanation?

Personal Development Activity

Appraisal Development Activity (1 hour)

Appraisal systems are fundamentally important to any effective team working environment because they are the forum for accountability, not only for the individual but also for the team or organisation. In other words the appraisal process is there to hold people and their leaders to account. However, in many cases, appraisals are not given the right amount of attention so they end up becoming a tick box exercise which has no real purpose.

This activity is designed to get you thinking about how appraisals can be used to support the development of a high performing team from Lencioni’s pyramid point of view.


In your leadership journal consider each of the levels of Lencioni’s pyramid. Come up with a question for each level of the pyramid that can be used in an appraisal meeting with all members of your team. An example could be (for the ‘conflict’ level), “In our team there are many new initiatives happening all the time and this is likely to result in some level of conflict within the team. Where do you feel your points of conflict may lie in the next six months, and how do you plan to de-escalate this as a point of conflict for yourself?”

Bring your findings to the PLC for discussion with other colleagues.