Building Teams that Trust

I would have suggested there were woodchips in the windmills of your mind if you had told me I would enjoy a week that included three solid days of meetings that were all about planning. And yet, that’s exactly what happened this past week. I enjoyed it. I spent three days with an incredible team that is working to build stronger, healthier and more creative communities.

The meetings were anything but boring. We covered a lot of ground, made significant decisions and delegated responsibilities.

Along the way we clearly refined the map that would move us closer to what initially seemed to be an almost unattainable vision. It occurred to me afterward that much of our progress and the speed that allowed for our quick decision-making and innovation was the result of the trusted relationships we’ve built with one another.

Just as Stephen M.R. Covey writes in his new book, The Speed of Trust, we have managed to build, quite by accident, that magical ingredient that guarantees the shortest route to success - trust.

Yet, if trust is the one thing that changes everything, what exactly is it and how do you get it? Covey talks about the specific behaviours that lead to trust.

The first is what he talks about as the importance of talking straight. Although our team has always referred to it as authenticity, ultimately it’s about the same thing. It’s about being honest and telling the truth without spinning or distorting the facts.

My colleagues and I are comfortable enough with one another that we are able to do that even when it means disagreeing or challenging one another.

This past week, one of them called me on my preference for using a specific facilitative technique. She asked me point blank, “Is it the best technique for the group or are you using it because you like it?” It was a good question that really did get me thinking.

Covey also talks about respect and showing you care about others. During our three days of planning, it wasn’t unusual to find us diverging from the agenda to talk about family, healthy eating, and strategies for ensuring work life balance.

While all of the team members are kind and caring, one in particular is one of the kindest I’ve ever known. The strength of her kindness and interest in others is such a compelling force it draws others to her and allows her to build relationships that are essential to our initiative.

Because our initiative is so complicated, it seems that being as open and as genuine as possible is essential. Although we likely err on the side of providing too much information, the underlying message is that we don’t have hidden agendas and what you see really is what you get. By the same token, when we make a mistake, which will be the case when new turf is being explored, we will be the first to admit it.

There’s another behaviour going on that, while somewhat rare these days, is essential for building trust and loyalty.

It’s about giving credit. Both the organizational CEO and the project manager I’m working with are constantly and consistently giving credit to contributions of others. Don’t know about you, but when I’m given credit for what I do, it increases my loyalty as well as my enthusiasm and commitment. Because we can count on one another not to over-promise and under-deliver, the project itself is more successful in delivering results.

I don’t want to suggest that it’s all rosy. The reality is that because we’re all working to continuously improve, the constant learning that is required is sometimes quite painful. It means we have to tackle issues head-on even when we’re tired of stretching to grow. We’re also constantly redefining and renegotiating expectations.

Ultimately we can’t avoid responsibility or blame others when things go wrong. We’re working really hard to listen and understand with our ears, eyes and heart to learn what matters most to others and then making sure we do what we say we’re going to do.

For our team, it is all about trusting one another as well as trusting that our communities and their leaders know their communities best.

We definitely have a propensity to trust. Yet, while there may be some risk in trusting, my guess is that there’s far greater risk these days if you don’t.

Posted on 03-02-08

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