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Keys to Your Success - Build Trust for Cohesive Teams

(posted: Oct, 2014)

...Or, How do you get 1+1+1+1+1+1+1 to equal 10? Or more?

In my last post, I said that the first key to your success is to hire great employees.

The next question is, how do you ensure that you are getting the best efforts from your new hires and your team? Having been a financial analyst, I like formulas and one of my favorites is:

1 employee +
1 employee +
1 employee +
1 employee +
1 employee +
1 employee =



10 employees...or even 12 employees

Wait, did I add incorrectly? Nope. Remember, I was a financial analyst, so I can do basic math.

No, this formula is a way to visualize the fact that you will get more than just the sum of the parts, if you can not only hire great employees, but also are able to form them into a cohesive team producing great results.

Signs Your Team Is Failing

You probably know it if your team is in complete disarray. But your team may seem to be functioning, yet really be missing the mark for productivity and success.

Here are some signs that your team is not highly functioning:

  • Unproductive meetings: Consistently waste time and suck energy from the group.
  • Indecisive: Decisions take a long time to make because you have to revisit the same issues over and over.
  • No Buy-In: Even when you think you have a decision, you find out later that not everyone understands or supports the decision.
  • Lack of Accountability: No one, except you, seems to be accountable for the team's results.
  • Self-Centered Behavior: A silo mentality where team members look out for their own best interests instead of the team's.
  • Politics: People routinely talk about fellow team members behind their backs instead of raising issues or concerns during meetings.
  • Non-Participation: Lack of active and passionate debate on important topics, genuine concerns, or issues during meetings.
  • Fear: Passive behavior or even fear of participating in team discussions.

Contrast that with a productive, high functioning team that:

  • Makes better, faster decisions
  • Is able to leverage the skills, opinions and expertise of all members
  • Doesn't waste time and valuable energy on politics, confusion and negative conflict
  • Doesn't waste time discussing the wrong issues due to the lack of buy-in
  • Creates a competitive advantage
  • Has passionate and well-rounded debates with full involvement by all
  • Has members leaving a meeting with a common understanding of issues, decisions and critical next steps for team success
  • Is more fun to be on!!

How Do You Get a Cohesive and Engaged Team?

You start by developing and maintaining trusted relationships between managers and employees, and within the entire team.

Patrick Lencioni, the author of "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," describes five behaviors needed for a cohesive team. Note that these behaviors apply in any relationship, work or personal, where there is a common goal or desired outcome for two or more people.

TRUST, of course, is the crucial foundation:

  • Trust one another
  • Engage in healthy conflict & discussion around ideas
  • Commit to decisions
  • Hold one another accountable
  • Focus on achieving collective results

How Do You Build or Increase the Foundation of Trust in a Team?

Trust is a complex concept with different elements. When you are dealing with others and learning to trust them, you may be asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are they competent?
  • Do I know them and what is important to them?
  • Will they look out for my best interests?
  • Do they care about me and respect me?

Can You Accelerate the Growth of Trust on a Team?

You can, but it takes a serious commitment, focus and the willingness to develop personal relationships with and among your team. You may feel that focusing on "warm and fuzzy" elements is a waste of time, but developing your, and the teams' "soft skills" can lead to huge payoffs in terms of productivity, time management, turnover, engagement, etc.

You may find that this focus requires you to move away from the traditional "command and control" style of management to one that emphasizes participation and full engagement.

This doesn't mean that you rely on the team's consensus for decisions. If you are the manager, you will still need to make the final decisions, but your decisions will be based on a well-rounded debate by the team of the key issues surrounding the decision.

Three Ways To Accelerate Trust

There are several things you can do to accelerate trust and they all start with you, the manager. You, as the leader, must make sure that your team views you as trustworthy.

First, take the time to develop a personal relationship with your employees and your team. Take time as a team to find out more about each other. You can start by asking simple questions such as "Where did you grow up?" "How many siblings do you have?" and "What was challenging when you were a kid?" By having people, including you, tell your story, you let people get to know you better outside of the work setting. You may find common themes or "aha" moments. This also tends to allow everyone to be on par with their teammates and helps open the door to the second step in accelerating trust.

Second, be vulnerable. Be honest and disclose what you are good at and what you aren't so good at - your weaknesses. When you make a mistake, own it. Talk about how you operate and how that may be challenging for some but work well for others. That may seem like you are opening yourself up to criticism. In fact, you are opening the door to everyone on your team to be honest about themselves.

One of My Favorite Tools For Building Trust

The third way to accelerate the growth of trust is to use a behavior assessment tool.

My choice is the non-threatening DiSC assessment.

I prefer DiSC over other assessments because it is simple enough for people to remember but still provides great personal insights and a useful framework for team discussions. DiSC is non-judgmental. It reflects your personalities and preferences. There is no right or wrong DiSC result, and no DiSC style is "better" than the others.

DiSC helps team members understand each other on a fundamental level. It can replace unfair conclusions and attributions about someone with understanding and empathy.

For example, someone who tends to be quiet during meetings might be judged as "not fully participating" or "not engaged". In fact, if their preference is a strong C (Conscientious), they are quiet because they are thinking through the discussions but haven't yet decided to share their conclusions. When they do, their contributions will probably be very rational and insightful.

The question for you as the leader, or for the team, is not, "should I reprimand or fire this person?" but instead is "how do I make sure we gain that person's perspective and insight?"

Setting the Stage For Healthy Conflict

Having these insights about teammates' strengths and vulnerabilities builds the level of trust on the team. Team members can see that each of them is human, with strengths and vulnerabilities. This then opens the door to the next step of building a high performing team: Conflict around ideas and decisions. I will discuss conflict, a topic most people find challenging, in my next blog.

Take The HR Challenge

  • What is your experience with team dynamics?
  • How have you built trust on your team?

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