What is Essential for Building Trust in Your District?

Joe Baker

What is one thing that is essential to building trust in your district?

My colleague Kevin and I recently had the chance to ask over 120 school board members and superintendents this question and found some unexpected insights in the conversation that followed.

First, a little background.

The Group Insight Game

Often when we have the opportunity to work with a room full of superintendents, board members and other district leaders,  we lead the group through an experiential activity that we refer to as the “Group Insight Game.”

The activity has two objectives.

The first is to demonstrate the value of considering and scoring the thoughts of others. It allows participants to understand the value of having responses prioritized by the group that asked the question.

The second objective is to ask and work with a question that can provide valuable learning about a real and timely issue.

The Group Insight Game takes about 30 minutes to complete and results in every participant’s thought receiving a score between 0  and 25 from the group. Similar thoughts from multiple participants can also be themed together.

Insights emerge by looking at thoughts by top score, the number of thoughts assigned to each theme, and the average score for those thoughts.

Insights Into Building Trust

When Kevin and I first formulated the question — What is one thing that is essential to building trust in your district? — we felt that it might be too much of a “softball,” given some obvious platitudes about trust.  But we went ahead, and interestingly, there were some notable takeaways.

First, I found it instructive that community engagement (one way to think about what our company does) and competence and dedication (that is, the professionalism of the district leader) scored lowest when it came to building trust.

It was also very interesting that the “easy” answers of honesty, transparency and communication didn’t score highest.

The importance of listening and the correlation between words and actions appeared in very few thoughts, but received the highest scores by those who saw them:

“Listening, because communication is a two way street and all parties must be willing to listen to each other to work together.”

-Actual Thought, Score: 19, Average Score: 15, with 5 similar thoughts

“The words that are spoken correlate to the actions that are taken builds trust.”

-Actual Thought, Score: 15, Average Score: 14.4, also with 5 similar thoughts

It’s also notable that inclusion, which also didn’t appear in a lot of thoughts, scored highly as well.

“All individuals will receive the same information & no secrets.”

-Actual Thought, Score: 15, Average Score: 14, with 3 similar thoughts

By way of comparison, “transparency” appeared in 38 thoughts.

Listening, Correlation Between Words and Conduct and Inclusion

Listening, correlation of words and conduct and inclusion were not the first words that came to mind, but in the end were found to be among the most important when all thoughts were considered by the group. Interesting.

When I first sent the results out to those who participated, one school board member replied:

Thank you for sharing this valuable information. I would be very interested to ask the same question of community members to see whether they would score things differently. I have a hunch that they would which may contribute to a disconnect between boards and communities, especially given the current state in [our district] right now.

Great question. What do you think?  If your district asked this question of your staff, parents and other community members, what would be the answer?

If you are interested in running your own Group Insight Game to find out, contact me for a full set of instructions, printable materials, and any questions you may have.

Explore the full Group Insight Game results

About the Author

Joe Baker

For the past 20 years Joe has worked with entrepreneurs and their start-ups in all kinds of roles, including as angel investor, board member and CEO, and has held a number of other positions, including executive level sales, business development, corporate development and general counsel positions. For the past 10 years, Joe has lived in and worked from Whistler, BC, pursuing that elusive balance between helping to build great companies and living an awesome life. He is happy to have been part of three new company success stories since coming north, and during that time life has generally been awesome. He has no doubts that the ThoughtExchange team has what it takes to do it all over again, but that’s not the whole reason he’s here. Joe is excited to be with ThoughtExchange because he believes it is on to something special in a broader sense, and he’s keen to be a part of it.