Trust is a powerful force underlying sport performance and its power is no more obvious than in team sports.
In sporting teams where there are high levels of trust in the Head Coach, they win more games and championships than teams where there are low levels of trust.
Unfortunately, in many elite sporting organisations lack of trust can be not only elusive but a performance derailer.
So, what is it that high trust sporting teams do that distinguishes them from low trust teams?
- Truthfulness is prioritised and valued ahead of personal or professional gain.
- Accountability applies to everyone in the organisation regardless of where they sit on the org chart.
- Purpose short term “wins” that undermine future success are avoided.
- Integrity means everyone within the organisation walks the integrity talk including the CEO and coaching staff.
- Safety (psychological and physical) is a priority for everyone.
- Diverse perspectives are sought out so every voice can matter. “We” and “Us” language trumps “I” and “You” language.
- People are hired and promoted in alignment with the organisation’s purpose and espoused values.
- Willingness to admit that leaders don’t have all the answers.
- Zero tolerance for bullying, harassment, threats and fear.
- Unethical behaviour is called out and swiftly acted upon, with no fear of reprisals.
Trust is also built on competence.
One of the primary accountabilities of the CEO and Head Coach/Manager is to ensure their coaching staff become better at theirs jobs, enabling athletes to improve at their chosen sport, both individually and collectively.
Trust requires leaders and coaches to genuinely act in the interests of all key stakeholders, including athletes. Athletes are usually very good at understanding whose interests a leader or coach’s actions are serving. When self-interested behaviour becomes the norm, the organisational culture becomes toxic.
When the culture is toxic, discretionary effort diminishes and performance suffers.
Leaders and coaches not only t to understand the legal and economic contracts they have with athletes, but also the psychological contract.
The psychological contract is the implicit standards of trust and fairness and mutual expectations between the athlete and the organisation.
Leaders and coaches must also understand that they are custodians of the psychological contract. When promises or inducements are made, they must be kept, otherwise the psychological contract is broken (along with trust).
The only alternative is a re-negotiation of the psychological contract.
Broken trust can be repaired but it means leaders and coach’s must take accountability for trust breaches and their impacts. This requires honesty, transparency and courage.
Repairing trust also requires leaders and coaches to take accountability for fixing what has gone wrong so such breaches do not occur again.
Finally, recognising that when trust has been broken it is everyone’s problem not simply the athletes’ problems, which can be at times, a very inconvenient truth.