September 2018


Important principles affect team performance: How the team is defined and constituted; common values; common language; team size; leadership styles; organization cultures; diversity of perspectives; productive conflict; unity; cohesiveness; and communications quality. Trust is clearly the glue that makes teams work; yet a group of participants will individually offer different definitions of what trust is. Some say mutual respect, confidence in others, knowing what to expect, belief in interdependence, caring about others, a sense of self-sacrifice, and subordinating individual interests and needs to the team's interests and needs.

In Managing Change: The Art of Balancing, Jeanie Duck argues that "Trust in a time of change is based on two things: predictability and capability. In any organization, people want to know what to expect; they want predictability. That's why, in the middle of change, trust is eroded when the ground rules change." As a result, teams need to discuss, work through, understand, and especially practice predictability and capability in the context of individual and team behavior and performance. Of special significance is providing mechanisms for team members to identify and address team issues that diminish and magnify trust within the team and to identify issues in the larger culture that affect internal team performance. Without defining trust within team, members are likely to allow breaches of trust to erode individual relationships and diminish longer-term team effectiveness. In fact, great teams can benefit from creative tension, from wrestling with dissonant ideas, from rigorous exploration of opposing views, from having to compensate for member mishaps and blind spots. By the way, we have a truly amazing new instrument called Productive Conflict,designed specifically to help team members turn dissonance into profitable productivity.

Creating and building trust does take effort, practice, and especially focus on the task-at-hand. Experienced, skilled coaching is essential to short- and long-term success. As with successful athletic teams, coaching needs to be on the court where the team plays, but sufficiently apart from the game to observe the overview as well as specific player actions and far enough away to provide objectivity and independence. Coaching needs to be "of the game," not "in the game," to clearly see and manage team outcomes while understanding what makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Coaching needs to be able to discern how the "trust equation" is working, be able to adjust the moving, changing parts as the game progresses, and focus on helping players hone their skills.

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