Using the trust matrix to build the seven levels of trust


To build a strong team there has to be a high level of trust. Trust is the glue that holds people together and the lubricant that allows energy and passion to flow. Trust builds internal cohesion. The ability to display and engender trust corresponds to the fifth level of personal consciousness. Trust increases the speed at which the group is able to accomplish tasks and takes the bureaucracy out of communication. The principal components of trust are character and competence.

The Trust Matrix

Trust Matrix

Character is a reflection of how you are on the inside, your intent, and the level of integrity you display in your relationship to others. These depend primarily on the level of development of your emotional intelligence and social intelligence. Intent is demonstrated by caring, transparency and openness; integrity is demonstrated by honesty, fairness and authenticity.

Competence is a reflection of how you are on the outside, your capability, and the results you achieve in your role. These depend primarily on the level of development of your mental intelligence, your education and what you have learned during your professional career. Capability is demonstrated by skills, knowledge and experience. Results are demonstrated by reputation, credibility and performance.

Even though the focus on competence (capability and results) is important, these are skills that can be learned and accumulate over time. I believe the focus on character (intent and integrity) is more important because these qualities are required for bonding and are much more difficult to develop. Competence is about achieving results; character is about how you achieve them.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey states that trust means confidence and the opposite of trust (distrust) means suspicion. In other words, trust breeds connectedness. When we trust someone, we know he or she will have our interest at heart. Suspicion, on the other hand, breeds separation. When we are suspicious of someone, we will not disclose our innermost thoughts. We keep things back. We avoid connecting with someone we do not trust.

Trust reduces “culture entropy”
Cultural entropy is the amount of energy in an organization that is consumed in unproductive work. It is a measure of the conflict, friction and frustration that exists within an organization. Trust reduces cultural entropy: Suspicion increases cultural entropy. Covey puts it this way: “Trust always affects outcomes—speed and cost. When trust goes up, speed will also go up, and costs will go down. When trust goes down, speed will also go down, and costs go up.” A 2002 study by Watson Wyatt shows that total return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low-trust organizations.

Bestselling author Francis Fukuyama says, “Widespread mistrust in a ­society … imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay.” This tax is a reflection of cultural entropy. The following table describes each element of the Trust Matrix in more detail.

Components of Trust

An exercise for building trust
If you want to evaluate the level of trust in your leadership team or any other working team, hold a workshop and ask each member of the team to identify which elements of the Trust Matrix they believe are the strongest and which are the weakest in the way the team operates.

Give every person five points to allocate to the strengths and five points to allocate to the weaknesses—you can use green and red dots for this purpose (green for strengths and red for weaknesses). They can allocate the points in any combination to each of the 12 components of the Trust Matrix. Give them a few moments to think about how to allocate their dots. In a large team, people can work in pairs. As each person or pair declares their allocation of points, they have to explain to the rest of the group why they chose to allocate their points in that particular way. When everyone has placed their dots on the chart, add up the results for the whole team. You will see immediately which elements of the Trust Matrix are most lacking and which elements are most present.

Based on these findings, begin an open dialogue on how to build on the strengths and minimize the weaknesses that the team has identified. At the end of this discussion, ask each member of the team to state which elements of the Trust Matrix he or she is least competent in and what he or she proposes to do to improve. This exercise makes the whole team accountable for improving the level of trust.

What feedback do you have on the Trust Matrix and the related workshop? What other approaches have you used to evaluate or improve trust?  Please comment below.

This post was adapted from the book The Values Driven Organization: Unleashing Human Potential for Performance and Profit

Editor’s note: this is the initial post from Richard Barrett.  See the following press release regarding his addition as a distinguished faculty member. We value his contributions to the organizational culture field and the sharing of his insights to help others at

Photo Credit: Andres Tonini, FlickR photo modified with quote

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Richard Barrett is an author, speaker and internationally recognised thought leader on the evolution of human values in business and society. He is the creator of the internationally recognized Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT) which have been used to support more than 5,000 organizations in 60 countries on their transformational journeys. To date, more than
5,000 change agents, consultants and coaches have been trained by the Barrett Values Centre to use the Cultural Transformation Tools in over 50 countries. (For more information

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  • Steve

    Trust – quick to destroy; long to develop – paraphrasing ))smiles

    Appreciate the post … like the layering of the matrix.

    Wondering where would the concept of compliance or the term I prefer continuance fit in?

    As to an activity … years ago, the trust fall. Not recommended today for many reasons.

    There is the blindfold obstacle course … where 4 people in a group of 5 are blindfolded … the front person has sight. Begin to walk … at 2 minutes the front person takes out their blindfold, walks to the end of the line … places the blindfold on … the person who was second takes off their blindfold … walk around … after two minutes repeat, until the first person takes off the blindfold. Thus every person has been through every position – each position offering a different perspective of the experience of trust.

    Where possible vary the terrain and objects passed over and under.

    Enjoy …

  • Inge Loff

    A corporate environment rife with culture entropy leads to a toxic work environment, with a knock-on effect on the level of employee engagement (i.e. dangerously low levels).

    As valuable as work sessions are to identify areas of misalignment and alignment to the attributes of a high trust culture in an organisation, organisations seldom take this a step further.

    It’s seldom that this new found awareness is translated into:
    a) Amended organisational policies linked to People,
    b) Amended corporate values,
    c) Amended performance requirements which employees are measured on, and
    d) Amended organisational structure which provides an environment conducive to a high trust culture to mentioned a few.

    Measures must be conceptualised and implemented to ensure that those responsible to help entrench the values and other elements to promote such a high trust culture be held accountable. Otherwise it just becomes another off-site strategic session which is seen as yet another expensive weekend get-away.