What has Trust got to do with Innovation?

The dictionary definition of Trust is as follows:

Noun: Firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of something or someone.

The role that trust plays in a personal relationship is vital and I would assume that in business it’s also well understood. But it seems to me that it always revolves around one to one situations. I couldn’t find any reference in the definitions to “teams”.

When there is no trust in a team, then fear and anxiety are kings. They in fact feed on each other and the domino effect impacts everyone. This in turn creates a dynamic whereby politics drive behaviour and it’s just a matter of time before the team expels members or just implodes.

You yourself may have worked in a low trust environment and typically it’s survival of the fittest. But whilst many people can usually cope in this environment, what saddens me is the impact this has on the team and then ultimately the loss of opportunities to drive valuable business outcomes.

If team members have a leader that they can trust and that person is one of many leaders who openly demonstrate mutual respect, ideas & innovation explode and the atmosphere becomes exhilarating, intoxicating, even positively disruptive.

Sounds a bit like a well-run start-up. Or a really culturally aware organisation. And that’s where this image encapsulates for me how high levels of trust drive high levels of innovation.


Large organisations can emulate this powerful business differentiator but tough decisions are required. And that sometimes means, well in fact, quite often means, changing the leaders.

That may seem drastic but watching senior executives trying to change their natural behaviours of “command & control” or “shoot first and ask questions later” can be quite saddening. These individuals are not doing anything wrong. They may be square pegs in square holes but just the wrong colour…..that is assuming the company wants a high trust culture in the first place.

That’s because everyone looks to the leader of the team for direction and whilst they must shoulder most of the responsibility, they cannot succeed if there is no culture of trust in the company.

So I guess that when you join a company, it’s best to ask if they can provide examples genuine examples of trust & innovation and not the usual rhetoric around “we fail fast”.

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