The foundation of trust: A cohesive, trusting dental team can project success based on trust

Oct. 1, 2017
Dorothy Garlough, RDH, discusses the development of trust among dental team members.

By Dorothy Garlough

I am excited these days! I’m driven by the potential of what could be! A leadership team has chosen to embark with me on a journey to become a more cohesive team. Where we’ll go and how far we’ll go, we don’t yet know. It’s a road trip with no clear destination in mind. Not that there won’t be a destination, but the team can’t quite see over the wall. This wall is one that they have created over time, a wall of old patterns of behavior that keep them stuck in the mud. Until the wall is scaled, they won’t be able to see the numerous possibilities. It is my job to help them scale this wall.

There is one element that will be necessary to navigate the wall to the new land of possibility: trust.1 The Oxford English Dictionary defines trust as the belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. Although a succinct definition, this doesn’t encompass the depth or complexity of trust. Nor does it express its importance, for without trust, the engine of any team is dysfunctional, running at half power. Without trust, teams are fragmented, working against one another with no shared vision. They will attempt to climb the wall, but will continually slip back into the mud, wearing themselves out in their ineffective struggles.

Exposure of vulnerability

Trust is the basis of all successful teams.2 It takes trust for individual team members to bring themselves fully to their work every day. Everyone needs to feel safe and valued in order to let their authentic selves and talents shine. In a trusting environment, behavior is respectful even in times of conflict. Trust can be misunderstood and is hard to define. Over the past few years of writing for RDH magazine, I have touched on the need for trust in dental offices - but have not given it justice. I recently discovered a video by Professor Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, that helped to clarify what trust means to me.

Dr. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has created a word and acronym that she uses when discussing trust: BRAVING. The meaning behind this term speaks to me, because we brave a connection with someone else when we trust them. If what I share with you is important to me, I have exposed myself to you. This exposure of my own vulnerability requires that I be brave and trust that you will honor me, keep things in confidence, and not hurt me. I am braving a connection with you. Dr. Brown breaks the word down further as an acronym:3

  • B: Boundaries. I trust you are clear about your boundaries and stick to them, and I am clear about my boundaries and you respect them.
  • R: Reliability. I trust you if you do what you say you are going to do, and do it often. I need to know that you will follow through on your word and commitments. You need to be thoughtful about your commitments and take seriously your own word. Reliability is seen through consistent actions.
  • A: Accountability. I can only trust you if when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. To hold onto your trust, I too must be willing to take ownership.
  • V: Vault. I trust you if you hold in confidence what I share with you. Alternately, I hold what you share in confidence. You put one another’s heartfelt feelings, beliefs, and secrets in a vault, and hold them sacred.
  • I: Integrity. I cannot trust you if you don’t act from a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same.
  • N: Nonjudgment. I can struggle and fall apart without being judged by you. Conversely, you can struggle and fall apart, and I will not judge you.
  • G: Generosity. Our relationship is only a trusting one if you can assume the most generous things about my words, intentions, and behaviors, and then check in with me if I screw up. You trust that I would want to know if I said something, forgot something, or did something that was not in keeping with our trust. By mutually listening and sharing, our trust grows stronger.

Trust is a tall order

Trust is the foundation of any relationship, whether personal or organizational. Within teams, members will have higher self-esteem and be more productive if there is trust. They will also be happier. Building trust is a process of showing up every day holding yourself to the higher standard of BRAVING. Breaking trust down enables us to talk about it and also to hold a mirror up to ourselves,1 to look back with fearless introspection to see if we are meeting the criteria for trust.

Trust cannot be mandated, and it cannot be forced. It can be hard to build and easy to break. Like fine bone china, once shattered, it is difficult, if not impossible, to put back together. Trust must be handled with care. It needs to be guarded and built in the small things, so that each team member realizes that when the big need arises, trust is there.

Leading teams as a creative change facilitator, my role is to inspire others to want to change and grow. It is not easy to change, and unless we see the benefits that change brings to us personally, we will resist change. I need to help the leadership team that I am working with understand both the personal and professional benefits of becoming a cohesive team. And the benefits are both professional and personal! When we grow in one aspect of our character, we grow in others. If we become more creative, empathetic, focused, and better communicators in our professional lives, we cannot help but be more effective in our private lives. We cannot separate the skill from the person.

Time will reveal if this leadership team will become cohesive, but I feel confident success will be achieved. Every team member’s heart is in the right place, and this is a prerequisite for change. They believe in the important work they do and they care about their clients and want to become more cohesive. By creating an environment where trust can grow, we will have open dialogue, honesty, and everyone bringing their authentic selves and their gifts to the table.

The journey that we are embarking on will be unique to this team, and no doubt will have challenges. We will need to disrupt old patterns of behavior and create new ones that will better serve the team and organization. It will require courage on everyone’s part, the courage to trust and to be trustworthy. They will need strength as well to climb this wall that has been created over time. Everyone’s cooperation, collaboration, and willingness to grow will be required. Like all teams, they will need to work together as a cohesive unit to reach the pinnacle of the wall. From this elevated vantage point, the view will be magnificent, and they will no doubt chart their path to the future. I look forward to seeing what possibilities lay over the wall. RDH

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] or visit


1. Nath D. Building Trust and Cohesiveness in a Leadership Team. Systems Thinker website.
2. Lencioni P. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2012. ISBN 978-1-118-26603-8
3. Brown B. The Anatomy of Trust. YouTube. Published April 26, 2017.