As trust grows between members of your team, you will find your team functions better. As teams function better, trust grows. It really does not matter where the leader inserts team building in this cycle, only that s/he does. Communication is a key aspect to building trust in teams, described in an earlier post. Creating channels of open communication between team members about more than just work helps all the team members understand each other better. Engage your team in challenging work. Great challenges create a shared team identity and history. Challenging work develops confidence in team members, improves trust, and encourages greater positive risk taking because team members know they are supported.
While communication was discussed in the second post of this series, there are some specific aspects of communication to help improve team development. During Project Aristotle, Google researched why some of their teams were more effective and productive than others. One of their first reported findings was that teams that permit everyone about equal say are the most productive. They found such teams have the greatest teams had emphatic communications which created a culture of psychological safety. Google found that teams with these characteristics tended to allow about equal time for communication from all members.
Leaders start the discussion by opening up, so others see their vulnerabilities. They insist on respectful descent. They present a future that is hard but achievable. Leaders encourage the team to attempt difficult tasks and support them when they fail by examining what happened and how to improve. These behaviors support disciplined risk taking. A leader’s vision for the future is, “Like water in a bucket, vision evaporates and must be constantly replenished – that is, communicated.” (Blanchard)
As you project your vision for a better future, you begin to paint a picture of something that does not yet exist. Your vision should invite your teammates to join you on the achievement adventure. While the vision you present should be hard to achieve, it should not be impossible. People bond when they accomplish hard things.
Stephen Ambrose documents the trials and tribulations of a company of infantrymen from WWII in his book Band of Brothers. Easy Company was a well respected company because of the many victories it earned. The men of Easy became life-long friends. It is unlikely these Soldiers would have every known each other outside the war. However, their leaders trained them hard which built their confidence. Their battles were difficult, testing those bond, hardening them like steel. Each man trusted the other with their own lives. Imagine what it is like to work in a team like that.
It is easy to point to any number of military units to illustrate the point that hard work builds a team. There are plenty of examples of teams outside the military that worked hard, build trust, and accomplished great things. Jocko Willink wrote, “Combat is a reflection of life, only amplified and intensified,” in his book Extreme Ownership (p.12). As a result, there are many successful teams where the leader established an expectation of success and provided support. The leader understood when teams take on difficult tasks, failures will occur. That leader knew every mistake was a learning opportunity to be shared across the team. Those teams earned bragging rights when they accomplished things others thought impossible. Their successes, not their failures, are what others noticed and remembered. They attracted others who wanted to do great things because of the shared history and team identity. Trust grows in these teams, allowing them to function better.
An example is the child advocacy center movement. There are over 900 child advocacy centers across the United States recognized by the National Children’s Alliance. Each consists of a team from several organizations that serve abused children such as law enforcement, child protection services, medical and mental health providers, prosecutors, and advocacy programs. The team leader does not supervise any of these people.
The problems are real. The work is difficult and challenging. While it seems all these people are working towards a common goal of protecting children, each has their own view of how to approach the problem of child abuse. Sometimes these organizations have rules that make communication difficult. Often there is a great deal of friction between the organizations the team members represent. Yet, the team leader is trained to create trust between team members by facilitating meetings that create bonds between members. The leader asks team members questions to find the common ground between competing interests.
Over time, team members create strong bonds that inspire collaboration and cooperation. The result is, offenders are held accountable for what they have done. Child receive appropriate services to deal with their traumatic experiences, allowing them to heal and lead more normal lives. Team members often become friends because of their common history. As these teams grow, they find people want to belong rather than go it alone.
Team building is a core leadership competency. Building trust is an essential element of that process. Leaders build their teams by ensuring everyone has a voice, challenging them with hard work, and creating a culture of learning by allowing mistakes and providing support. These teams have shared experiences they value, a history of success, and create space others want to join. Building teams is a cycle to creating trust and improving performance. Pick an activity that does either, build on it, and before long you will find you have a trusting, highly functioning team.
- Ambrose, S. (2001). Band of brothers : E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. United Kingdom: Simon & Schuster.
- Blanchard, K. & Miller, M. (2014) The secret. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA. Kindle Ed.
- Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. The New York Times Magazine. Feb 25, 2016 ed. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html on 4/11/2022
- Huizar, T. (2022). Annual report 2021: Amplifying children’s voices. National Children’s Alliance. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/annual-report-2021/ on 4/28/2022
- Willink, J. & Babbin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership. St. Martin’s Publishing Group. New York, NY.