Six steps to building trust

About the 6-steps

The six steps for building trust (download a bigger image) provide a roadmap for developing teams based on the Cooplexity model (Zamora Enciso, 2020), which means cooperation in complexity.
Trust is essential to boost communication, promote cohesion and improve collaboration. This model is based on extensive, published research with management teams. It proposes distributing leadership in complex organizational environments when we face uncertainty and ambiguity.

What is distributed leadership?

Distributed leadership have in common with shared, team or servant leadership styles in that the focus is not on the leader but in the team.

Nevertheless, the difference may be in how to reach it. While the other styles strongly emphasise the perspective, distributed leadership is more about evolution.

Distributed leadership is considered a set of spontaneous and interconnected collective initiatives. It relates to talent, team effectiveness and self-coordination and is applied to the agile world and liquid organisations.

Trust definition

It implies a certain level of maturity in both the leader and the organisation, and how to accomplish it connects with trust.

I love the definition of trust coined by LaRue Tone Hosmer (Hosmer, 1995) for organisational theory as a summary from different theorists, which says:

'The expectation of positive behaviour that recognises and protects the interests of other persons, in such a way that the probability of cooperation increases and expands the final benefits within a common effort or economic interchange.'

It is situational

Nevertheless, there is no unanimity in the definition of distributed leadership. James Spillane, one of the first researchers, distinguishes between distributed leadership, collaborative leadership, democratic leadership, and co-leadership. He insists on distributed leadership as a practice that has sense as the interaction between leaders, the followers, and the situation itself (Spillane, 2006).

Spillane indicates three essential elements of distributed leadership:

  • The central concept is not the leader but the practice of leadership.
  • The interaction of the leaders, the followers, and the situation generates the leadership practice. Each element is essential.
  • The situation defines the practice of leadership and is, in turn, determined by this.

Thus, we have the situation as the first significant characteristic of distributed leadership.

It is emergent

After thoroughly revising the literature about delegated, democratic, dispersed, and distributed leadership, Nigel Bennett identifies three fundamental factors (Bennett, Wise, Woods, & Harvey, 2003).

  • The first refers to leadership as an emerging property from the interaction between individuals of a group or network.
  • The second suggests opening leadership limits beyond conventional leaders to include other contributors.
  • Finally, the third refers to the distribution of knowledge among the majorities versus the accumulation of it by minorities.

He proposes that if distributed leadership should be contemplated as something differential, it will be because it is the emerging product from the joint or concerted activity of a group or network.

About the anxiety

Distributing leadership is undoubtedly the best option when faced with uncertainty. However, an added difficulty relative to our human condition pushes us to look in the wrong direction. It is anxiety.

How often have we felt that tingling in the stomach that provokes a personal or professional change, a promotion, a company purchase, a transfer, a change of manager or just a "simple" move?

In a highly changing, even turbulent context such as the current one, uncertainty extends to all personal or professional areas. It can be generated by a lack of knowledge, by the uncertainty of how others will react, or by the enormous number of possible futures, depending on the evolution of circumstances. In all cases, however, one thing is sure: it produces anxiety. Furthermore, anxiety paralyses us in the worst case or pushes us to make decisions to reduce it.

However unpleasant it may be, instead of focusing on the symptom (the anxiety), we should look at the problem that causes it. Only then will we be able to solve it. Moreover, since this is neither a certain nor a rational context, I recommend the analysis method proposed by Herbert A. Simon (Simon, 1997), which follows three phases:

  1. Analysis of the possible options or alternatives.
    By maximising this analysis, we discover unknown options or put in-value alternatives that we would have discarded at the beginning.
  2. Anticipation and consideration of the consequences of each option.
    Doing this before selecting one option or another ensures that we are objective.
  3. Establishment of a value system as a selection criterion.
    The defined criterion reorders the options according to the expected consequences and not the other way around, which would happen in the case of having complete knowledge.

Logically, this analysis must end up in the decision-making process and, thus, in experimentation. Nevertheless, be sure that we will make a mistake if we experiment in the unknown. The key is not to avoid error but to prevent the catastrophic consequences of error. On the contrary, error allows us to learn, and it knows that it will ensure the adaptation that will ultimately reduce uncertainty and make anxiety disappear.

The six steps

Having overcome the blurring of focus caused by anxiety, if leadership depends on the situation and the emergence to be collective, the critical question is how to reach that level of maturity to allow its appearance. Again, of course, the answer is trust.

Here, the Cooplexity model (cooperation in complexity) suggests six steps to focus on. They are not independent but addressing them sequentially allows change managers to concentrate efforts and track evolution.

  1. Uncertainty management

I trust myself
No one learns from the experience of others. Managing uncertainty and reducing anxiety is done by increasing knowledge through learning.

  1. Relationship management

You trust me

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  Interacting means contacting people and mingling, discovering others' capacities, and looking for complementarity.

  1. Conflict management

We trust the project

It is in demanding situations that we must be conciliatory. It is about finding our place in the group and balancing contributions and benefits among members to generate a perception of fairness.

  1. Management by values

We trust the purpose

We commit ourselves to what we share, what we freely choose and in whose solution we believe. Acting with integrity and consistency ends in being trustworthy and knowing what to expect from others.

  1. Change management

We trust in difference

Sharing enriches us from the difference. Change by adding new perspectives and appreciating others' decisions, work, personality, and values.

  1. Shared leadership

We trust the system

Collaboration is a voluntary act that requires a certain degree of independence. Succeed in local decision-making while following a defined global strategy.

Cooplexity Business Simulation

You are eligible for a free seat in our annual open simulation if you have read the entire article. It is a remote competition where we deepen into the Cooplexity trust development model. The intended situation is to meet people interested in these topics to network and enrich themselves. The places are limited, so if you are interested, drop me a line at [email protected].

Perhaps you would be interested in the following: 

  • All downloadable free resources at here.
  • Our recognised leading in-person simulation to create emotional links and develop participative leadership is here.
  • Our virtual business simulation for global communities is here.
  • Our team dynamics programmes to improve managers’ interrelations are here.
  • Our development programme to become a team player is here.
  • Our games for training or motivational purposes at courses, meetings or events are here.


Bennett, N., Wise, C., Woods, P., & Harvey, J. A. (2003). Distributed Leadership: a review of literature. Nottingham: NCSL National College for School Leadership, The Open University and University of Gloucestershire.

Hosmer, L. T. (1995). Trust: The Connecting Link between Organizational Theory and Philosophical Ethics. The Academy of Management Review, 20(2), 379-403.

Simon, H. A. (1997). Administrative Behavior. A study of decision-making processes in administrative organizations. (4 ed.). New York, NY: The Free Pres.

Spillane, J. P. (2006). Distributed Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Zamora Enciso, R. (2020). Cooperation in complexity. Cooplexity, a model for collaboration in complexity in times of uncertainty and change.

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