Trust is the foundation of healthy groups (and everything)

By kate, January 27th, 2011

Here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Make Light Work in Groups. I’m writing about frameworks that have guided my work for decades, and falling even more in love with them. I was first introduced to Trust Theory through my mother when I was a teenager. She came home from her first experience a changed woman, and her shift from fear to trust was contagious. I hope this helps you value what some part of you already knows: Trust is fundamental, and we get to choose.

Trust Theory

The core of Jack Gibb’s Trust Theory is a simple idea: higher levels of trust correlate to higher levels of functioning in groups.

Imagine a spectrum from fear to trust. Every group and organization is operating within a particular band along the spectrum from high fear to high trust. The higher the levels of trust, the more creative, innovative, dynamic and effective the group or organization will be.

Gibb distinquished ten levels of trust, along with their corresponding leadership styles and assumptions about how to get things done. According to Gibb, in most group contexts, individuals are scattered within two to three levels on his scale, and where there are wider discrepancies, it is hard for people to be in the same group.


Gibb also expressed Trust Theory in the acronym “TORI” which stands for Trust, Openness, Realization and Interdependence. TORI holds that when there is a high level of TRUST we are freed up to be ourselves, dropping roles and positions. This naturally leads to OPENNESS — information flows between people; people say what they think, know, need and care about. Trust and openness lead to REALIZATION — people express and create in ways that are deeply meaningful. When groups have high levels of trust, openness and realization, they naturally mature into higher levels of INTERDEPENDENCE, boundaries blur and there is ever more synergy and effectiveness.

TORI theory says that the best way to cultivate trust is to create a “high quality environment”.

By creating a high quality environment, you create conditions for trust to emerge. Once there is trust, energy flows, and that flow leads naturally to openness, realization and interdependence. It is that simple.

How to create a high trust environment

According to Trust Theory, the most powerful lever for creating a high trust environment is choosing one’s own internal environment:

“Clear evidence from biofeedback and from more clinical approaches demonstrates that supposedly “involuntary” and “unconscious” processes can be brought under voluntary and conscious control. I give myself my trust and my joy. I create my life. I create my own mindbodyspirit in ways that would once have been discussed only in the wildest fantasies of science fiction.” Jack Gibb, Trust: A New View of Personal and Organizational Development, Los Angeles, The Guild of Tudors Press, 1978. pg 69.

In other words, I can choose to trust both myself and my environment. I can shift myself out of fear and into trust. Making this choice has a profound effect on how I experience my environment, and it ripples out to profoundly effect how others experience the same environment. There is a contagion effect.

I think of it as throwing my hat into the ring. Or taking a plunge. I choose to trust myself. I am enough. I don’t need to take on a role or mask to protect myself and keep myself safe. I don’t need to be careful about what I say or do. I can trust what flows through me. I can let myself flow.

This trust in my essential goodness allows me to trust the essential goodness in others. I won’t be “killed”, or humiliated. I trust that I can handle what results from me being me. It is safe for me to unfold.

The environment is high quality BECAUSE I choose to see it that way and act accordingly. I create my own environment through my internal choices.

I can have this stance towards life, towards myself, and towards my environment, regardless of my formal role in the group or organization.

This is not so much about being a leader, as being myself.

The more I can be myself, trusting that it is safe for me to show up without leaving anything at the door, the more I create safety for others to do the same.

This emphasis on authenticity has a powerful impact on groups. When I drop the “role” of group facilitator, paradoxically I am much more effective at supporting groups to be effective. I find the same thing as a parent, coach and instructor. It is as if my stepping out from behind a cardboard cut out predefined role sends a signal that everyone else can be themselves too.

Try it for yourself. Trust Theory is the foundation of everything I do.

Related posts:

Why I’m writing “Make Light Work in Groups”

Effective Group Decision Making

3 Comments to “Trust is the foundation of healthy groups (and everything)”

  1. […] Trust is the foundation of healthy groups (and everything) […]

  2. David Pittle says:

    I was just referring to TORI in an email conversation on the AGPA group. I have not been in touch for many years, but took part in at least three TORI workshops in the 1970’s and ’80s. Google offered your website as the only one when I tried TORI+Gibb.

    Just wondering what has been happening in the TORI world. Are Jack and Lorraine still around? Anyone else working with TORI besides yourself?

    I also do a podcast called “Joyful, Authentic Living” and interview various folk. I would love to interview you. Your work looks very interesting. Looking forward to reading your book.

    If you would be open to an interview, please email me ( ) and I can give you more particulars.



  3. Maureen Schneider says:

    I am a doctoral student who wishes to use the TORI tool does anyone know how to obtain permission to use it? Who owns it not that Dr. Gibb is no longer available.