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The (not very) secret ingredient to building powerful teams.

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

In working with organisations, any organisation, I have found this to be, by far, the most important point to drive home: that regardless of organisational structure, product or market, the one thing that makes a team work, or not, is the extent to which TRUST is a part of the team.

In his excellent work 'The Five Dysfunctions of a Team', Patrick Lencioni brilliantly defines the foundational role trust plays in any successful team.

There can be no more depressing sight than to sit in on a management meeting for the first time and realise that there is a profound lack of trust in the room.

The challenge then, for me, is to find out who is causing it. That is not to say that a lack of trust is always caused by just one person - all teams are a complex web of relationships and historical interactions - but usually, and i'm rarely wrong on this, there is one person who is the catalyst, the root cause, of most of the mistrust within the team.

Often, and this is where it can get difficult, it's not the boss.

My next question, then, is 'why hasn't he/she noticed?'. If it's clear that he is aware of the mistrust - 'why hasn't he done anything about it?'

This puzzle is absolutely pivotal to any improvement that takes place within the business. Seriously, it's that crucial.

Whether we're looking at improving workflow, coaching members of the management team or training various elements of the business, if there is an issue with trust, failure is lurking around every corner.

So what's the remedy? Two things: honesty on the part of the boss, and humility among the team members involved. Both are hard things.

If the boss is the cause of the problem, he needs to be honest with himself. If he is protecting someone in his team that he knows is the cause of the issue, he needs to be honest with himself and the person.

Sometimes they are unaware of the effect they're having on the team... but not often.

The approach I always take in these situations, is to simply watch. As we begin to notice things, our minds are alerted to other, less obvious aspects of the relationships within the team.

Subtle nuances - sidelong glances, clenching of a jaw, tightened lips, all point toward a potential answer.

Eventually, the solution becomes obvious - they need to own up to their behaviour and, for the good of the team, have the humility to accept their part in the problem. And do something about it.

It might sound a little harsh to say they must 'own up'. Maybe. The root of many poor behavioural traits is fear, so maybe some understanding would help.

Indeed it would, and does. But the need to be honest with oneself and the team is the only way through a situation like this, and, it needs to be remembered: a lack of trust in a team has, at it's foundations, some extremely manipulative behaviour. It cannot be tolerated without severe consequences for the team and the business.

So, the point of this post. Is there trust in your team? Are you able to disagree, sometimes vehemently, without fear of being frozen out or reprimanded? Do you laugh, together, as a team? Are your meetings a pleasure to be part of?

Having asked the above, you will already have an idea about the level of trust in your team. If there isn't much, whatever action you take won't be easy. But, should you decide to broach the subject in some way, my guess is that, long term, your colleagues will thank you.

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