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Teams- The Fundamental

Emotional Condition

For a team to be able to deliver results there must be trust among team members.

Without trust, there can be no open and honest discussion of issues. Without open and honest discussion of issues, there will be no synergy. If we don't achieve something better by working together than we do independently, there's no reason to come together.

Trust, once broken, is difficult to rebuild. It's like the low end of a see-saw resting on the ground, once trust has "fallen", it will take a lot of rocks (experiences) dropping on the other side to raise the trust level back up. I can forgive an offense immediately, but trust can only be restored over time - if ever. Forgiveness is given, trust is earned.

Rebuilding trust on a team calls for open discussion of issues; apologies, if appropriate, an agreement to leave the past behind, and a commitment to abide by certain behavioral guidelines moving forward. These guidelines (no more than five - seven) are called Operating Principles and are created by the team.

Agreeing to leave the past behind requires that all team members agree to the following:

  • I will not bring up past issues I've had with a teammate to him/her again
  • I will not discuss past issues I've had with a teammate with others on the team
  • I will not intentionally hold past issues against any team member as we work together moving forward

Getting free from the past is about behavior, not emotion. It is easier to "behave your way into feeling differently" than to decide that when you "feel differently you will change your behavior". Honor your commitment to the behaviors listed above and unpleasant feelings will fade over time.

On a team with a high level of trust:

  • What is best for the team takes preeminence over what is best for any one individual. A group of people that put their individual interests ahead of team interests is a team in name only.
  • All team members are equally invested in the team's goals. The prevailing belief is that we either all succeed or all fail.
  • Teammates freely share information with one another. No one withholds information in order to maintain control. (Note: The more insecure a person feels, the more he/she will try to control others.)
  • Team members speak openly and honesty, feel free to disagree, and work through disagreements in a professional manner. It is never about winning or being the "most right", but doing what will lead to the team's success.

When attempting to build trust on a team, leader example is the place to start. If the leader does not show himself/herself to be worthy of trust, there is little hope for the team.

The leader must be competent and consistent in his/her performance, model behavior worth imitating, communicate openly and honestly, and model appropriate self-disclosure. He/she must not discuss team members with each other, unless the information is complimentary.

It is critical for the team leader to treat others as if they are trustworthy. People tend to live up or down to the expectations others hold of them.

A gang member taken under a minister's wing in a New York City church illustrates this well. This young man had robbed at gunpoint and brutally tortured opposing gang members. As far as anyone could tell, there was no good in him.

One Sunday night, the minister asked the young man to take up the offering. The way the church was designed, he would collect the money from the people on one side of the sanctuary, exit into the lobby area, come in through a second door and collect from those seated on the other side. When that young man stepped out of the sanctuary and into the foyer, not a person sitting in those pews believed he'd be coming back in.

After what seemed like a very long time, the young man came in the second door and continued passing the plate. When questioned later about why he didn't run off with the money, he said, "Minister Jerry trusted me to collect the money and bring it to the front. No one has ever expected me to do the right thing before. No one ever believed that I would."

We can all benefit from a second chance, a fresh start. Sometimes this is all it takes to dramatically change a team for the better.

My friend Eric was promoted several years ago to a fairly high-level management position in a large corporation. Roger, the well-meaning manager Eric was replacing, had prepared some information he thought would be helpful to my friend. He handed my friend an envelope and said, "This is a list of all your direct reports. I have recorded their strengths and weaknesses, identified those you can rely on and those you can't, those who will give you a hard time and create dissension in the team and those who won't. This should help you out. Good luck."

Eric later told me that one of the smartest things he ever did was to tightly seal that envelope and lock it in a cabinet. He gathered his new team together and said, "This is a fresh start for all of us. As far as I'm concerned we're all beginning with a clean slate. I've not asked anyone about you, nor do I care to know their opinions. Show me what you've got and your willingness to use it to move this team forward."

A year later, Eric took out the envelope and read its contents. Roger's perceptions of the team members were not at all what Eric had experienced first hand. During the twelve months Eric had been in his position, he had treated his direct reports as if he expected great things from them. They didn't let him down.

Expect the best of your people.

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