Building Effective & Trusting Teams

By Kathy Miller on July 12th, 2013

These days, our businesses are facing complex, and often unfamiliar challenges. In this world of infinite information it is unlikely that any one person will know all that is necessary to meet the tests. Thus effective teams are more important than ever. While collaboration and teamwork are buzzwords, team success is far from guaranteed. Outstanding teamwork develops by design rather than by default. The good news is most of the steps to building a strong and effective team are simple. Our consulting work and this White Paper is dedicated to helping teams work!


I. Factors that Favor Team Effectiveness

When teams are functioning effectively, they can accomplish much more than any of the individuals working alone. Teams can improve creativity because more minds are looking at the problems. They bring a breadth of knowledge to the table from a variety of perspectives. Superior teams get results!

However teams don’t automatically provide value to the organization. How many of you have participated in teams where one or more of the following statements apply?

• Each team member has his/her own agenda that impedes progress.

• Decisions never get made.

• Everyone digs in on his/her own position without listening to others.

• Team members do not disagree openly with each other due to fear of conflict.

• What people say in team meetings differs from what they say inside of the meeting.

If one or more of these statements apply to your teams, you may need to consider a team tune-up.

The following 5 guiding principles for teams lead the way for superior team performance. Which of these principles do your teams adopt as norms?

1. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Tell the truth all the time whether it is good news or bad news. No mushroom treatment, no covering up, no deception.

2. Trust yourself, trust your teammates, and trust each other.

When people feel trusted they will do whatever it takes to meet their team members’ expectations. This involves getting to know each other personally, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and avoiding jumping to conclusions without checking on your assumptions. Stay open to new ideas regardless of who, what or where they originate.

3. Continuously give credit where credit is due.

Members of strong teams appreciate each others’ strengths and are quick to acknowledge them.

4. Place the interests of the organization and the team ahead of yourself.

When teams have a common purpose that unites the members, it is easier to focus on the “good of the whole” rather than personal agendas.

5. Commit to accountability.

Think about how your behavior contributes to or hinders the success of the team. Each of us is responsible for making our teams successful.

In our 30+ years of working with teams, we have found that discussing these guiding principles at the outset can go a long way in positioning the team for success. And if your current teams need a tune-up, talking about these principles is a great way to take a step back from the team tasks and adjust the team process. Teams that hit bumps can get back on firm ground with a little time and attention.


II. Building a Team that Trusts

Almost everyone would agree that trust is essential to strong team performance. However trust is not a simple and straightforward concept. Trust means different things to different people. Most definitions fall into one of the following categories:

Personal Trust – The belief that persons are honest, reliable and ethical. They will do what they say and are well-intentioned. They are willing to make themselves vulnerable to us as we are to them. Personal trust develops through shared experiences that reveal character.

Interpersonal Style-based Trust – The belief that the persons are willing to cooperate and collaborate and have the skills to do so. We tend to trust those whose interpersonal styles are similar to our own. However, really strong teams are composed of people with a variety of styles and an appreciation for the diversity.

Competency-based Trust – The belief that persons have the knowledge and skills to carry out the tasks of the team.

Since each of these types of trust affect the strength of the team, they all require attention. The following 5 steps will ensure that your teams are positioned for success!

1. Develop team ground-rules.

You might start by discussing the guiding principles outlined above with your team members. Ask them to add their own principles to the list. Get commitment to the ground-rules from each member.

2. Create shared meaning.

Shared meaning comes from conversations where all members strive to understand the opinions and perspectives of others, while also explaining their own opinions and the logic behind them. Encourage others to challenge you and avoid defensiveness when they do. At the same time, listen to the positions of others and ask questions to understand how they arrived at these positions. Use precise language and define your terms.

3. Get to know each other.

Explore members’ interpersonal styles. Discuss differences and how the team can make use of the diversity. For example if some team members tend to look at the big picture and others tend to be more concerned with details, the two groups will complement each other.

4. Spell out team roles and members’ strengths.

Clarify what each member brings to the team and their role on the team. Many times the source of conflict can be traced back to confusion regarding roles. If each person understands what is expected of him or her and what is expected of each member of the team, most of the time the members will perform accordingly. We usually ask the team members themselves to describe the value that they think they bring to the team.

5. Agree upon process standards from the start.

Create a framework for trust by establishing ground rules and setting standards for making decisions and reaching consensus. Teams that take the time at the start to clarify how they will function tend to be much more efficient and much more likely to avoid misunderstandings.

Building a strong foundation of trust takes time. However the time invested is much less than the time it takes to address the problems that can crop up later due to lack of trust.