"Grace and Tom are two of the most effective leaders I know. But both of them have run up against issues with their teams.
For Grace, the challenge involved contending with rumors, each one more far-fetched than the one proceeding – Grace is shaking things up. She plans to resign. Grace will soon fire half the staff. While Grace knew who started the rumors, cultural taboos among the largely immigrant and limited English speaking staff blocked her from using direct confrontation.
Tom’s team got tripped up by unpredictability. One day a team meeting would run well and at the next, things would fall apart. “We couldn’t get any traction or momentum because we had to keep doubling back and re-explaining ourselves,” Tom reported.
I asked them both the same question – Whom do you trust? A great team consists not only of the people you work with, but also of the people you trust. When stakes get high and crisis looms, trust emerges as the differentiating factor. Even in mundane, day-to-day events, opportunities to build trust and strengthen a team are just as available as in peak moments. There is no need to wait for any time other than now.
Establishing trust that leads to great teams can happen when, from the beginning, people recognize its inherent rewards. Grace, for example, inherited an organization that thrived on suspicion. She worked hard to establish a new trust-based paradigm by shaping organizational values that recognized its importance. She found ways to integrate these values into her organization. Despite the rumors, she formed a core group of trusted and influential staff who had the capacity to stem the tide because, as one staffer reported, “Our values acted like a backbone that both framed and supported the behaviors that we aspired to.”
Earning trust comes in many different ways. When Tom asked his team what it takes for them to build trust, their answers ranged from “I always start from trust, because it takes too much effort not to,” to “I came from an environment where every action was judged.” Trust takes time and may, for some, involve passing tests. By recognizing that trust arises in different ways can allow individuals to accept their own way through. Indeed, through trusting themselves, they can show up better equipped to manage individual and collective interactions.
Building trust by speaking the truth proved to be a good solution for Grace. At one point, she was tempted to start a couple of rumors of her own… “just to give them a taste of her own medicine.” I worked with Grace to take another approach by sharing some advice from Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and author, who wrote: Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. In that light, I encouraged Grace to ask the suspected rumor spreader, “What are you afraid of?” When she did, the power of her truth shined forth, and while the rumors continued, they lost their grip.
The truth behind an effective team is in building and sustaining trust itself. It can be learned, earned and returned in a few moments, or it may take years of hard work and diligence. But once it is attained, each of us can discover that a team built on trust can accomplish remarkable things.