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Surprising Facts about Trust in Teams

Most people would agree that trust in a team is important. Leaders seek to strengthen trust between them and their team members, hoping to improve team performance. But do we know enough about trust?

 

Researchers studying trust uncovered a set of surprising facts about it:

Oxytocin is “The Trust Molecule”
As Claremont Graduate University’s Paul Zak, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main’s Michael Kosfeld and Universität Konstanz’s Urs Fischbacher have shown that oxytocin (a hormone) plays an essential role as a biological basis of trust. Oxytocin increases trust in humans by affecting an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions. When someone’s level of oxytocin goes up, he or she responds more generously and caringly, even with complete strangers. This applies to all aspects of human life including intimate relationships, business, politics and society at large.

Group Activities Help Release Oxytocin and Promote Trust
As Paul Zak explains in The Wall Street Journal article, many group activities – singing, dancing, praying and others – cause the release of oxytocin and promote connection, caring and trust. As social creatures, people have created activities that prompt the expression of oxytocin to foster connection to others. Surprisingly, even online social activities such as checking out a friend’s Facebook page can prompt an oxytocin surge.

Stress Inhibits Oxytocin and Reduces Trust
In his experiments, Paul Zak also found out that stress is a potential oxytocin inhibitor. Consequently, when people are stressed, they tend not to interact with each other effectively and not feel high levels of trust.

Why is trust especially important today? During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual workers report elevated levels of stress and fatigue. Also, there tend to be less schmoozing and small talk among remote team members, which Michael Morris of Stanford and Columbia and Janice Nadler, Terri Kurtzberg, and Leigh Thompson of Northwestern have shown leads to lower levels of trust. As a result, teams can experience a decline in energy, engagement, productivity, and overall satisfaction.

What are the implications for teams?

Trust between team members is fundamental to the functioning of the team. Shared virtual experiences bring the team together, reduce stress, release oxytocin and promote trust.