What The Walking Dead Can Teach Us About Trust

Anyone that knows me well, knows I am an obnoxiously huge fan of the Walking Dead. I am also a huge advocate of leadership development. In only the rarest of times, do passions unite. But, in the latest Walking Dead episode, I found a nice bridge of both of my crazy passions. (Spoiler alert – for those of you Walking Dead faithful that are not yet on season 5, read no further).

So, you may be asking yourself, what could the Walking Dead, a show about the zombie apocalypse, possibly have in common with raw human emotions like leadership, especially trust? The answer – everything…

When the world has, for all purposes ended, and humans are at their rawest form physically, they are also at their rawest emotionally. And, when you think about the rawest human emotion, what is more important than trust? Ask yourself, when the world is ending, who would you trust?

The latest episode of the Walking Dead features a team of survivors meeting a society that has been in a safe place since the apocalypse. They have been surrounded by steel walls protecting them from the zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead survivors were trying to integrate into a society of “normal” people, yet, it was so awkward. I kept thinking, these “normal” people are out to get them, I just know it.

But I suspect I am wrong. Through my wise husband’s heeding, I realized, this is doomed. Why? Trust is the answer. The team of survivors have enormous trust with each other that they have built over the past 5 seasons, but zero trust for the new society of “normal” people. It took many experiences of being open and honest with each other and confronting conflict together as a team to build that. But, now that they are integrating with a new society, there is no trust for the new group. Why? Because they have not had those same experiences together. If they are not careful, the new society could break some of the trust that has taken a long time to build.

Here are a few things that the Walking Dead has taught me about trust:

Trust is hard to build

Trust takes time. Be patient. The first step is being open and honest with your team. Create a safe environment where the team can be open and honest together. Make it a cultural norm to admit mistakes and be vulnerable with one other. Many say frequent conversations, team building time, or team meetings help create a trusting environment.

Trust can be broken in an instant

Ask for feedback from the team on where they perceive the trust level to be. If there are any barriers to trust, your job is to eliminate them. It could be something as simple as making it easier to share tools needed for the job, or having a 1:1 with someone that is not committed. Do some detective work to find out why trust is low, and what you can do to help.

Trust is essential for any team to perform

I just recently taught a leadership development course for a dozen leaders in agriculture. The #1 issue they are wrestling with is teamwork – and they all shared that trust was a huge problem. This has a huge impact on engagement and productivity of the team. We all realized it is our job as leaders to build and maintain the trust. That’s not easy for a group of leaders to admit.
I challenge you to think about trust on your team. I suspect this is a very common issue. So, think about your team and ask:
What can you do to be more be open and honest with your team?
Who can you get feedback on trust within your team?
How can you create a safe environment for your team to openly communicate and express trust?