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The Trust Factor: 5 Ways to Build a Winning Team

Close your eyes for just a minute. Yes, really.

Envision a time when you were on a really high-performing team.

Stay in this place for even 10 seconds to re-experience what it felt like.

The Foundation of a High-Performing Team

It feels great knowing you’ve got each other’s back, right?

Plus, there’s that level of transparency around everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, which helps to optimize the whole team and put people in the right positions to succeed.

Now step back into reality: How easy was it to remember what a high performing team feels like? Likely, easy.

What about today? Does the team that you work on now feel the same way? Is there a gap?

If there is a disconnect, you’re not alone.

The foundation of any high-performing team starts with trust – which is always the basis of great teamwork.

Yet in far too many organizations today, trust is seriously lacking. Let’s start to explore this essential leadership topic …

Why is Trust so Important on Teams?

 In Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he outlines a simple model. The 5 dysfunctions are:

 Lack of trust

  1. Fear of conflict
  2. No commitment
  3. Dodging accountability
  4. Not focusing on results

 So if #1 is a lack of trust, what’s behind it? Often, the fear of being vulnerable. On a high-functioning team, members have a strong trust with each other on a fundamental emotional – not logical – level. They’re comfortable being vulnerable with each other. 

When you trust each other in this way – where you have your guard down – you don’t have to constantly filter what you say and play in politics, which creates silos. 

You can engage in what’s called a “healthy conflict” – you know, the good, strong debates that aim to discover the best solution. 

Conflict is important because on just about any team, you’re going to have people who are all different, who can bring a diverse set of ideas to the table. Yet without trust as the foundation, healthy conflict cannot occur. 

It’s easy to see how foundational trust is crucial in every organization – especially in the world we live in today. 

Knowing What Type of Conflict is Beneficial

In fact, if you have a team that isn’t engaging in healthy conflict, trust might be the culprit. It means you haven’t normalized the ability to challenge each other from a place of, “I’ve got your back” and “I come from positive intent to getting to the best solution.” 

Remember, I’m not talking about personal or interpersonal conflict. It’s really focused on ideas.  When you can have a healthy debate, committing to decisions becomes real, there’s an emotional component to it. 

And even if some people didn’t agree with the decision initially, they now are fully committed to go forward, and then they’re comfortable to hold each other accountable. 

How Can you Start Building Trust in Your Team?

Here are my top 5 tips, starting with #1:

 #1 Create a safe space for trust.

 This doesn’t have to be complex – in fact, simplicity is best.

 One way is to have meals together, even if you’re a virtual team. Because when we have meals together, we can cultivate a feeling of safety. It goes back to our primal needs.

 Other ways to create a space for trust: 

  •       Design team activities that involve flexing those vulnerability muscles.
  •       Create activities so the team can build trust by taking risks with each other.
  •       Make the space for one-on-one connections on a regular basis.
  •       Give each other feedback. Support each other.
  •       Don’t rely 100% on team meetings. I see this a lot, but it isn’t enough.
  •       Make a routine of meeting, and stay committed to it.

 #2- Discipline for Trust. 

Set clear expectations, make agreements explicit. Why? Because miscommunication can easily undermine trust. What seems as common sense to some, can be perceived as disrespectful or unacceptable to others. 

Work with the team to come up with a working agreement, that address things like:

  •       How do we communicate with each other?
  •       When do we respond to each other?
  •       How do we use messengers?
  •       How do we use email after hours?
  •       When do we give each other feedback?

Once you come up with a working agreement, explicitly review it on a regular basis and hold each other accountable. That’s when real magic happens.

 #3- Give everyone a space to talk. 

You have meetings of 12 people sometimes – and you have them in 30 minutes. How can this give everyone a chance to talk if there’s no space to be heard? How can you possibly be hearing each other?

 Consider having a facilitator in the meeting. Learn some facilitation techniques that are inclusive that gets everyone’s perspective. Remind everyone that their opinion is important. Have longer working sessions (esp. in person!) periodically.  Learn how to practice proper listening – where you seek to understand, not just to respond.

 #4- Lean towards healthy conflict. 

Why would you welcome conflict on the team?! What you don’t want is an artificial harmony when everyone kind of gets along with each other but it’s not authentic. Decisions are made suboptimally just not to ruffle anyone’s feathers.

That’s not good for the business. That’s never good for the business long term. Yes, it feels nice, but it’s artificial niceness.

Create your conflict norms. What do you agree on regarding your styles towards conflict? Some people are OK with yelling, some are not. Repair trust if you feel like it went the wrong way. Have space for debate; always with the goal of getting to the best solution and hearing different perspectives.

#5 – Incorporate feedback and continuous learning! 

We all struggle with giving each other feedback. Truth be told, it doesn’t feel good to receive constructive feedback. It also doesn’t feel good giving it. But it’s powerful. So just get in the habit of it.

Don’t make it awkward, make it easy. Ask just two simple direct questions:

  •       What did I do?
  •       What’s one thing I can do better?

After meetings, plan for a quick retrospective. It doesn’t have to be after every meeting, but at least at the end of big meetings every quarter.

Some questions to ask:

  •       What do we want to stop doing, or to continue doing?

 Or ask everyone to put on a sticky note in grouped discussions:

  •       What did you like?
  •       What did you not like?
  •       Where do we make alterations? 

Once you get into a feedback routine, you’ll see how that sense of awkwardness or the nagging feeling “I don’t know when it’s the right time,” will fall away.

It doesn’t have to be hard…really!

Want more strategies to build trust on your team? Stay tuned for my next article, where I’m giving you a simple formula you can use to build, manage and rebuild trust with anyone. You won’t believe how easy it is. 

Ready to put this into practice? Check out my LinkedIn Live, on Building Trust on Teams. 

If you found this article helpful, consider signing up for my newsletter, A Cup of Connection, packed with observations and practical tools for your career & life. 

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