One element critical for team success

posted in: All, Change, Company culture, Trust | 1

If asked to name one element critical for team and organizational success across all industries and environments, what would you say?  Perhaps vision? Shared values?  Purpose?  Or possibly skills, and ensuring the people with the right skills are in the roles that make best use of their strengths. Maybe you’d say strategic thinking or an effective business plan.  Maybe camaraderie, cohesiveness, or focus on results.

All of these things are important, it’s true.  And still there is one critical element that everything else builds upon. Trust.  Trust creates the foundation for successful teams, and when trust is absent, the team struggles to move forward. trust fall

Why trust matters

Patrick Lencioni demonstrates this principle In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by looking at what happens when there is an absence of trust on a team, or in an organization.  When trust is missing, team members are more likely to withhold information, keeping their opinions to themselves.  They may not feel safe expressing themselves.  They may cover up mistakes, or fail to report potential problems. They may agree to a decision because it’s the easiest path, not because they believe it’s the right course. This leads to lack of commitment, accountability, and ultimately poor focus on results.

Trust – or the lack of trust – has direct financial implications for organizations.  Stephen M.R. Covey shows how trust impacts cost and speed in The Speed of Trust.  Lack of trust results in increased costs and decreased speed.  You can probably think of examples from your own experiences. What happens when people don’t trust each other?  Information isn’t shared, problems are not surfaced, excessive review and approval systems need to be navigated before people can act.  Bureaucracy and red tape, and work that needs to be redone because decisions have  been made based on incomplete or even incorrect data.

Absence of trust is demotivating.  According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self Determination Theory, one of the pillars of intrinsic motivation is autonomy. We work so much more effectively when self-motivated rather than externally motivated.  Allowing autonomy requires trust – trust that people will do what needs to be done, with high quality and on time.  Micro-managing sends the opposite message, that people are not trusted.

It takes a lot to achieve peak performance on a team: Mission, vision, values, planning, strengths-focus, open communication, healthy conflict, collaboration, commitment. But without trust there is no foundation and performance will crumble.

How can you build a foundation of trust?

So how do you build trust within the team?  A good way to start is to be intentional about creating an environment where people feel safe sharing their thoughts, ideas, and opinions, without negative repercussions.  Find ways for team members to get to know each other and develop interpersonal bonds.  Create purposeful experiences for team members to help them build relationships and trust. Many of you have heard about or experienced activities such as the “trust fall.”  (You’re not rolling your eyes, are you?)  These trust-building activities take us outside our comfort zones.  Which makes us, well, uncomfortable!  That discomfort is powerful, though, in promoting growth and change.  As we begin to trust another person for our physical well-being, we also begin to trust them when it comes to our emotional or psychological well-being.

When there is a foundation of trust in an organization with a compelling vision, clearly-understood purpose, and shared values – a team performing at its peak can accomplish anything.  It can move mountains!

Create the company culture you want!

Culture in the workplace.  It can make the difference between a place people love to work or one they dread. For something that has such a profound impact on the success of an organization, the accidental company culture is surprisingly common!

If you are a leader in your organization, you have a choice. You can be intentional about establishing and developing the culture you want.  Or, you can do nothing toward creating culture and hope that what develops organically is what you had in mind.  Because whether or not you are intentional about it, your organization will develop a culture of its own. And as with most things, it’s easier and more effective to establish the culture you want if you build it from the start. When that doesn’t happen, you may find you need to change the culture, sometimes one that is firmly entrenched.

yoga at the beachThe core elements of culture are the same, in organizations, society, and families. Culture grows out of the mission, vision, and values of groups of people. And the leaders of people have a tremendous impact on culture. When leaders select and develop people who demonstrate values and behaviors that align with the organization’s purpose, they reinforce culture. In addition, the leader’s ability to communicate the vision, promote the values, and demonstrate the behaviors that support those values has a profound influence on everyone else in the organization.

So how can you be more intentional about creating culture and developing a team that embodies the culture you want?

Here are three keys to effectively establish or change an organization’s culture.

 

Mission and Vision:

First, be clear on both the organization’s mission and vision.  Make sure everyone has a solid understanding of why they do what they do, and where they want to go in the future. Leaders need to be able to clearly articulate both of these, and make them part of an ongoing conversation with everyone in the organization. Steve Jobs once said, “in a thousand  and one little, and sometimes larger ways, the vision needs to be reiterated.”  In your organization, are the people in every role able to talk about the vision and about how they contribute to achieving it?  If not, what steps can you take today to bring this about?

 

Values:

The values that are reinforced day-in and day-out are the ones that become part of an organization’s culture. What values are reinforced in your organization? Do the actual behaviors of everyone in the organization align with the stated values? Or are there areas of disconnect? Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this: A stated value that “work/life balance is important and respected.”  But the actual practice is for emails and texts to be sent at all hours, any day of the week. If there is a discrepancy, the behaviors will have far more influence on the culture.

 

Behaviors:

Determine the behaviors that align with your mission, vision and values, and then consistently demonstrate and reinforce those behaviors. Think about behaviors you would expect to see in your ideal culture. If building relationships is one of your organization’s values, you might expect to see people going to lunch together, or taking time to interact on a more personal level from time to time. If you value achievement, you might expect to see a focus on goals and celebration when milestones are reached. Ensure that the systems in place support the desired culture and behaviors.  Consider the behaviors that are rewarded in your organization.  Are desired behaviors sometimes inadvertently punished?  Or unwanted behaviors rewarded?  For example, perhaps top-performers are “rewarded” with extra work, while under-performers are given less work to do.

 

Once you start on the path of changing culture, remember that it won’t happen overnight! The larger the organization, the longer change will likely take. But as you consistently reinforce the mission, vision, values, and desired behaviors, your ideal culture will soon become a reality in your organization. Change, large or small, starts with a single step. What step will you take today to take your organization’s culture where you want and need it to go?