High Performance – A Question of Trust

Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 15 July 2015

High performing teams require balance in many ways and in particular a balance of personality types.  Some people will like action, some people will be creative, some will be highly precise and analytical and some will be good with people and enjoy building and maintaining relationships.  Having a healthy mix and a balance of these styles of engagement means that we don’t have any blind spots and we can see any challenge from a number of different perspectives and consequently this will give as an opportunity to focus on results…or so you would think!

Unfortunately, while not without many advantages, having different perspectives can create conflict and discord, which can be damaging and counterproductive.  Focusing on results alone while not understanding the real team culture and dynamics can prove highly ineffective.

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni identified that you can only start to build strong performance and deliver credible (and exceptional) results if you first address the level of trust within your team. It is hard to run at full speed while you are looking over your shoulder and an absence of trust can becomes a handicapping distraction impacting confidence, productivity and effectiveness.

Laying a Trust Foundation

So this raises the question – What is trust and how can you develop it?  Trust is defined as ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’ and to explore this a little further arguably has four main aspects:

  • Credibility:  Do you have the skills, knowledge and competence to reassure your colleagues that you can deliver to the required standard?  Bearing in mind that credibility can mean different things to different people. 
  • Reliability:  Do you generally do what you say you are going to do and inspire confidence and peace of mind in your colleagues? 
  • Intimacy:  Have you developed a relationship with your colleagues that is deeper than just work and involves some level of social interaction?

This latter aspect can very often be overlooked as unimportant as we focus on objectives, deadlines and targets.  If you asked yourself honestly, how much do you know personally about each individual within your team – why do they come to work and what really matters to them?  The answer is generally very little.

It may however be much easier to achieve this level of intimacy than you think.  Dr Arthur Aron at Stony Brook University New York conducted an experiment to determine whether he could create conditions that would make complete strangers bond and form close friendships in just minutes.  Using a set of just 36 questions, he asked the volunteers to ask each other the questions in turn and after just 60 minutes respondents said that they felt unusually close.

Finally, there is self-orientation.  If you manage to demonstrate credibility, consistently deliver what was agreed and even share some personal facts and take interest in your colleagues lives, you can undermine your own potential to be trusted if you are too self-centred.  While our own goals are important, a balanced focus on also doing what is right and in everyone’s best interests is needed to create trust.

Once established, maintaining trust requires consistency and each of these four aspects needs to remain firmly in place.

To complete the model of high performance, Lencioni goes on to say that once you have established trust it becomes easier to have productive conflict.  Healthy challenge that won’t be taken personally and enables everyone to disagree positively as they move towards the best outcome. This in turn facilitates total commitment to the agreed solution without the need to revisit earlier disagreements or questioning decisions that had already been made.

Finally, complete accountability for delivery and this isn’t just accountability of the leader but the accountability of every member of the team to deliver what has been agreed. Teams that trust one another, engage in conflict, commit to decisions and hold one another accountable are very likely to set aside individual needs and agendas and focus on what is best for the team.  They don’t give in to the temptation to place their department, career aspirations or ego-driven status ahead of the collective results that define team success.

About the author
Eddie Kilkelly is Managing Director at insynergi, a provider of bespoke coaching, mentoring, training and consulting support to develop high performing teams at all levels within an organisation.. Headquartered in London. insynergi is part of the Outsource Education Group.

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