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Karin’s Leadership Articles

“Do you trust me?” What a loaded question. It’s tough, even with people we love. “Sure, I trust you to be faithful, but do I trust you’ll remember to pick up the dry cleaning?” Even small actions can build or diminish trust over time.

Defining the behaviors that breed trust can go a long way in encouraging more of the good stuff on teams. Let’s have some fun with this easy trust building exercise.

An Easy Team Trust Exercise

Materials Needed:

for the initial conversation

  • yellow sticky notes
  • a wall or white board
  • easel paper and markers

to make it last

  • an artist (if you don’t have one on your team, you can find one online for a reasonable price. Joy Guthrie does a nice job. Or you can find other creative help on Fiverr)
  • a laminator


  1. Ask each team member to write down what they consider their own most trustworthy characteristics, one per sticky note (e.g. set clear expectations, tell the truth, follow-through). They can come up with as many examples as they like. Don’t skip this step, introspection is an important part of the process.
  2. Ask each person to share three of their trustworthy characteristics with the group. Some discussion may occur naturally here. Allow that to happen.
  3. Have each team member place their sticky notes on the wall or white board, and begin to group them into similar clusters.
  4. Identify the themes and write them on the easel paper.
  5. Now the fun part: have the team design their ideal trusted team member. For now this can be just a stick figure with labels, but encourage the team to get creative (e.g. sincere eyes, strong arms for heavy lifting, transparent heart). Name this little guy, or gal (e.g, Trusted Tracy).
  6. To keep the conversation going, have an artistic team member (or rent some help online) draw up the caricature of your ideal trusted team member (with labels highlighting the characteristics). Laminate the caricature (like your very own team Flat Stanley)
  7. When your team comes together for team meetings or other events, find time to ask who wins the “Trusted Tracy” award? And why. This is a great way for people to nominate and highlight the trusted behaviors that are happening on the team. Team members can do a casual “vote” to select a winner, and that person gets to hold on to “Tracy” in his or her cube or office until the next time. This works for virtual teams as well, just take a pic and turn it into an email-able image.

Let’s have some fun ourselves! Send me your ideas for building our own Trusted Tracy, and we’ll turn it into pic. If there are artists out there who want to play, I’ll include them in the post as well. Let’s have a big LGL Friday virtual team builder Even if you’ve never commented before, this is an easy time to chime in.

Thanks for all your contributions!  Here’s our composite (click to see a bigger version).


Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Joy Guthrie

    I’m so very honored Karin. Thank you very much for recommending me in your post.

    Love the trust exercise you’re pulling together here. Will be following with interest.


    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks, Joy! I’m really excited to see what folks contribute.

  2. Paula Kiger

    Well, first of all, Trusted Tracy should most definitely write with a Big Green Pen — it’s the most trustworthy kind around! ( http://s600.photobucket.com/user/paulakiger/media/greenpen_zps6a69d2e1.jpg.html ). All kidding aside ….. the elements that make me trust a leader include: how I see them behave when they don’t know I’m watching (this includes what they do and say in email/on social media), the fact that they follow through on even small things if they committed to do them, and a huge component for me is a commitment to fairness and equity. Good luck with your project!

    • Karin Hurt

      Excellent Paula! Oh, I love the image of seeing how they behave when no one is watching. That should be fun to create.

  3. Nikki Heise

    Great post, I can’t wait to do this with a new team that I am getting ready to form. Thanks for sharing.

    • Karin Hurt

      NIkki, Awesome. I would love to hear how it goes.

  4. Woody Till

    Karen, Great post. My idea for “Trusted Tracy” is that a team member will do what is best for the team and not have any hidden agendas. If the team focus is aligned with the company strategic goals then the team member will be doing what is best for the company.


  5. LaRae Quy

    Wow! LOVE this exercise!

    My most trusted team member would always have my back. And if they heard or saw something that could negatively impact me, they’d be honest enough to share what they’d heard or seen.

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, Excellent. That will make a nice visual too!

  6. Karin Hurt

    Adding in a comment from Google Plus: William Matthies Yesterday 2:08 PM

    Not sure this falls under the heading of a characteristic of a trusted leader, but for me it’s me deciding I can trust this other person be they a leader or not. It’s the deliverable of who they are and it’s not based on what they said or did, didn’t say or didn’t do. It’s all of that and some relationship voodoo that one day results in me concluding, “I trust you.” Or not.

  7. Karin Hurt

    2 more weigh in from the trust alliance on LinkedIn. Who else wants to play?

    Barbara Brooks Kimmel
    Executive Director Trust Across America – Trust Around the World

    Trust is earned when the leader exhibits character, competence, consistency and generosity. We ask leaders to be VIPs (values, integrity and promises kept!). Hope that helps.

    Doug Turner, MBA, ACC
    High Performance Coach at True Balance Coaching

    People trust leaders who are clear (and believable) about what their true objectives are, what is their true intent? (a key part of “character “in Barbara’s comment above) Are they really acting in the best interests of their people and the organization, or are they faking it, and really out for their own gain? Trustworthy leaders also know you can’t fake it.

  8. Annemarie

    Sounds like a fun exercise. I am definitely going to try this. Thank you for sharing

    • Karin Hurt

      Anne Marie,
      Awesome. Please let us know how it goes.

  9. Karin Hurt

    A few more powerhouse ones from LinkedIn Trust Alliance members.

    Jim Kouzes

    Author of the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge

    For one person to trust another—whether that person is the CEO or a frontline employee – that person needs to believe that the other has his/her best interests at heart. To be a trusted leader you have to demonstrate that you’re there to help others succeed. And you need to be the first to trust. Self-disclosure is another important action. Opening up builds closer relationships. Trusted leaders also show concern for others. You have to listen, and respect alternative views. Competence is also an important ingredient in building trust, and sharing information and knowledge helps to both demonstrate competence and interest in others. Treating promises seriously, following through on commitments and behaving predictably an consistently are other actions demonstrate that you are a trustworthy leader.

    Charles H. Green
    CEO Trusted Advisor Associates

    Leaders do two things:
    1. Personally role-model Trust Virtues (e.g. honesty, reliability, discretion and an other-orientation)
    2. Lead and manage from Trust Values (e.g. relationship rather than transaction focus, collaboration, and transparency) in all organizational affairs.

  10. Karin Hurt

    Another one just in from the trust alliance!

    Michelle Clarke
    Director Talent Dynamics, Business Development Consultant, Management Consultant, Business Coach, Social Entrepreneur

    Thats strange, I had added here and now its gone but i was still alerted to the thread… Heres more or less what I said anyway 🙂

    Leaders who do what they say they will, on time and to the expected standard, consistently, and who focus on creating trust through their natural talents

    Secondly those leaders that encourage others to share trust and to focus at their natural talents too

  11. Nadine B. Hack

    Trusted Tracy always would be transparent with others about her shortcomings as well as her successes. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and share the parts of yourself that are not those which are extolled really allows others to experience your authenticity, which is a key dimension for being trusted.


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