Join us this week at Entrepreneurship 101 as we explore startup leadership. We’ll look at how to inspire others and set clear goals, and how to communicate clearly and execute your role effectively.

Last week at E101, Kevin Smith of The Story Architect discussed how to build a strong startup team. In this blog, Kevin expands on this topic and explores the critical issue of team trust.

During last week’s E101 session on Building the Dream Team, I spoke about what to me are the key factors in building a great team. I told some stories about the need to have shared values and vision, to have contributory expertise and, most importantly, to establish trust. I got the point across, but the questions that people had after the talk were tough to address. How do you go about building trust with your team? How can you tell through an interview if you can trust someone? How do I find trustworthy co-founders or employees?

I figured the best way to answer this was to share the experience that I’ve had so far in building two teams that I’ve been working with on my new ventures.

Trust over time | Venture 1

The first partnership I’m pulling together is a team that has come together because of their shared connection with me.

One of the team members is a past client of mine, someone who I’ve helped work through some branding and go-to-market strategy questions as he started his system automation consultancy. The other is a partner that does application development and analytic dashboard design that I met through a mutual customer who was working with us in different respects to get an app put together. In both of these cases, we’ve built good working relationships and gotten to know about each other and our businesses.

It was after I’d been to a working session on the IOT marketplace in Canada that I realized that between the three of us, we had the pieces of an overall services approach for customers looking for IOT solutions.

Over the last few months, we’ve been discussing what types of customers to test an approach with, what our routes to market would look like, and what other partnerships we would need to pull this together. We’ve been meeting regularly and slowly testing the relationship to see how we work together, whether we are aligned and if we can trust each other.

Intentional search for trust | Venture 2

The second team that I’ve pulled together is a group that is looking at building some pretty revolutionary software to address a key HR pain point in large enterprises around goal setting, alignment and annual performance reviews, among other things. My approach to building this group was more direct, as I purposely started recruiting technical and strategy people from my networks, from networking events, and from targeted groups such as CoFoundersLab and FounderDating.

We’ve pulled together as an informal team for now until we complete early customer validation. After that, we plan to discuss putting together a formalized relationship, but we are testing the partnerships and our values as we build this out. The goal is to see if we can work well together and if we are on the same page.

Trust, but verify through experiments

My approach has been to test the trust relationships by moving slowly and running experiments to see if these groups can work out. I don’t think there are too many real shortcuts to demonstrating that there is trust. You either need to have direct experience with a person, or that person has to come from a referral that you deeply trust. A past track record of execution also helps. Even then, you won’t really know if you fit until you work together.

I’ve learned this the hard way by being too trusting too quickly and making commitments to a team without verifying that the “trust relationship” was there, to my own detriment. There’s nothing worse than joining a team and learning shortly afterwards that you’ve made a horrible mistake.

Missed the E101 presentations?

Watch the videos below to hear more of what Kevin had to say. And get tips from leadership coach Mic Berman, and learn about the work underway by CIBC to build a culture of innovation within the bank.

What Makes Great Teams?

How Will You Lead?

Building a Culture of Innovation: CIBC Live Labs

Entrepreneurship 101 course resources

And search “Entrepreneurship 101” on iTunes U.

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is a story architect. In his 20+ career in sales, marketing, entrepreneurship and politics, Kevin has done over 10,000 pitches. Kevin helps startups unleash their story to secure customers and investors by helping them understand what their core customer story is and then helping them get their story to market. See more…