Context matters for team trust

I still hear about managers taking teams on ropes courses and splat ball courses for “trust building.”

It doesn’t work. Trust always exists within a context and relates to a specific sphere of action and expertise.

So if you want to build trust on a ropes course team, a ropes course makes sense. If you want to build trust on a splat ball team, a splat ball course makes sense.

But neither makes sense for building trust on a software team because it is not congruent with the context.

That takes forging agreements on how people will work together and then following them. It takes fostering a culture where people can ask for help without sanction and take sensible risks without sanction.

A team outing may help build trust if it helps people get to know each other–humans tend to trust people they know and cut people a little more slack when they known them and feel some connection. But trusting that someone won’t let you fall off a 15 foot platform isn’t the same as trusting that someone has good technical chops and will follow through on commitments.