In the “Why Teams Outperform Groups” blog, we talked about the difference between leading groups and leading teams and why that distinction is so important. This week, we’ll be discussing the primary ingredients in creating a successful team: trust and understanding.

Before jumping into a project, leaders need to invest time in creating genuine relationships among team members–the foundation for optimal productivity.

Trust: The Essential Ingredient

The foundation of every relationship—whether with a friend, a significant other or a coworker—is built on trust. Unfortunately, trust doesn’t grow on trees (as far as I know). It takes time and effort to make an honest connection with another person so they come to trust you.

In a corporate setting, most leaders don’t place enough importance on getting to know their collaborators before they jump into the task at hand. You’re probably on a tight schedule. I get it, time is money! In the long run, though, the time you invest learning about each team member makes for a happier, more efficient operation. Why? Because gaining insight about someone can reveal how they work and perceive their role. Having that information will help you resolve conflict, stay on the same page, and play off each other’s strengths for maximum results. These are the benefits of building trust.

Take a moment to watch this video on the pitfalls that new leaders commonly fall into when they take the helm from another leader—all of which can derail a team.

Spend Time Connecting

How can you start to establish trust?  Begin with the very first meeting. Starting off on the right foot can be as simple as asking everyone a few intriguing ice-breaker questions, such as:

  • Where did you go to high school?
  • What are your top three hobbies or interests?
  • If there was one movie or T.V. show you wouldn’t miss, what would it be?

Give your team time to jot down their answers, then share them aloud. A conversation will naturally arise. Don’t rush it! Ask follow-up questions and encourage people to tell stories. This process allows the team to see their colleagues as people, rather than as an obstacle or a means to an end.

Even if members have worked together before, they may not know much past one another’s titles and responsibilities. The goal isn’t to create close friendships.  (In fact, as the video pointed out, leaders shouldn’t try to be friends with their team—or force friendships among their team members. Friends hang out, watch movies, and go to restaurants. The goal of team relationship-building is to develop quality partnerships to reach a mutual goal.)

Download a free team assessment and start getting to know the strengths of your team today.

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Get Assumptions in the Open

Once your team members have opened up to each other, you can delve deeper into what each member is thinking. No, you don’t have to be a mind reader (although that could be helpful) but you do have to step outside your agenda and simply listen.

Although each member might know the main purpose of the team, they bring to the table their interpretations of how things will operate and why. These are assumptions, some of them justified, some not. When assumptions lie hidden, they can cause serious issues later on.

Let’s say Desiree is leading a team of coworkers in a fundraising campaign. Parker is put in charge of developing the communication materials to be used with potential donors, and he soon realizes he’s in over his head. He’s a great writer, but he’s no match for the massive workload paired with fast-approaching deadlines. He assumes there is no budget for hiring a contractor to help him, and the results he delivers are subpar. Discussing the situation with Parker, Desiree realizes she never told him there was a budget set aside in case they needed to hire a contractor—she assumed he knew.

It would have saved Desiree, Parker, and the rest of their team a lot of time and frustration if they had understood one another’s presumptions first. If that’s one misassumption they uncovered, imagine what others might be lurking, ready to sabotage the team again!

An essential part of building trust among team members is shedding light on assumptions and discerning whether they are true, false, or can be changed.

To summarize: take the time to foster trust among your team members. Identify their collective knowledge and resources, and get differences and assumptions out in the open. The sooner you invest in these key trust-building elements, the sooner your team can move toward a unified mission.

The concepts in this blog are covered in greater detail and context in my eBook, Leading Teams that Get Results in the chapters “Spend Time on People First” and “Understand Team Dynamics”. The next blog in this series will explore team cultures and expectations as we make our way through my S.U.C.C.E.S.S. method for leading and developing stronger teams.

Do you need support getting your team on track for breakthrough results? We have a training series for that!


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