I could write an entire book about this topic, because trust is the cornerstone of performance. Toyota’s House of Lean has foundations and pillars supporting a roof that houses one thing - the most important thing in the organization – its PEOPLE… its TEAM. This blog post will likely my longest in a while, but after growing many gray hairs (not from stress, but from experience), I have the wisdom to say that without trust NOTHING works well, but with trust organizations can bounce back from the brink of disaster. Case in point, Toyota handled the recent triple-witching (economic crisis, brake issues, and the tsunami) like it somehow had always planned for a doomsday scenario. This was possible only because its team could trust its leaders and its leaders could trust its team.  (I ask anyone who can name a non-Japanese company that could weather a triple witching like this without a major government intervention to please post it in the comments section.)

Trust is something earned, not given. This is true for management, systems, organizations, and even individuals. Trust is built on doing the right thing, consistently. When trust is broken, performance is affected. The effect can be subtle or long lasting, and can even have life and death implications. Organizations struggle when their leaders cannot be trusted, and unless CEOs resign or are replaced, they normally head to bankruptcy. In similar situations, governments are forced to take up arms against disgruntled citizens that have lost all trust and confidence in their leaders. In this scenario, the lack of a ‘board’ that can ask for a leaders resignation, citizens are forced to take matters in their own hands.

Leaders must layout systems with fair and consistent rules and procedures. They must not play favorites, and they must reward and/or recognize those who consistently work hard and show passion for the common organization. For example, Toyota’s idea management system (their continuous improvement and innovation initiatives) consistently guarantees that its team members’ ideas will be heard and acted upon and the TMs will be recognized. This overall approach yields tens of thousands of actionable ideas, and further more guarantees that team members will not ‘sit’ on any good ideas. Toyota employees trust the system!

What happens when trust is broken? Let me illustrate this with a baseball analogy. Players want to win, and they know they must do it as a team. However, they also want to have fun. This means they want to hit the ball and they want to be the ones making the outs. They too want some recognition… and in baseball, as in all of sports, that recognition comes from the fans.

A manager or coach needs to properly manage a team, with multiple characters, egos, and skills to ensure the team can win. He must trust his players to do the right thing to the best of their abilities, but more importantly he must acknowledge their good plays, and give them his support and tools to help them improve their areas of weakness. Managers must treat ALL their team equally, and reward them equally (these are all things inherent in the Toyota Production System)

A coach needs to be trusted by his players.  There are times when a coach may need a player to hit a SACRIFICE fly or bunt, to help runners score. A skilled player may also be asked to play a position he doesn’t particularly like (i.e.: left field) where the odds of being in the ‘action’ at any given time are greatly reduced.

Just like asking workers to work overtime, or on weekends, this requires the workers to trust that the decision is the best for the team. A manager who calls in his workers on Saturday because he needs them to cover for him while he goes golfing risks losing their trust... and that of his peers.  But in reality it only takes a manager to ‘cross’ or lose the trust of one team member in order to see the ripple effects on the team’s ability to perform.

So what happens in baseball when players lose trust in their coach? When a skilled player is sent to the outfield, or a good hitter is made to bat last? In most cases, if the team is winning, they will continue to trust the coach. But what happens when that same player watches his teammates make error after error in the infield while he's tucked away in the outfield? What happens when the player who is batting last hits better than those at the start of the lineup? What happens when the team continues to lose? What happens when he isn’t given equal opportunity to listen to the fans cheer at his actions (recognition)? The answer is simple. The player will do what is best for him. Just like an employee looking for work elsewhere and recognition elsewhere, a player will swing for the fences when asked to bunt the ball. He will try to make the low percentage heroic play from the outfield (i.e. throwing the ball home hoping to get a runner out, and thus allowing other base runners to advance). Chaos can ensue when members of a team start putting themselves ahead of the team effort, and that is usually the result of managers and coaches putting their interests ahead of the team’s interest. Teams lose trust in their leaders when they fail to show trust and respect in their teams. This is the key to Toyota’s success!