In our first blog in this series, we shared our “top ten” list of characteristics that define high-performing teams. Now, it’s time to get down to business and talk about each of those characteristics in greater depth so you can take action to improve your team’s performance. We start with the foundation that all the other characteristics build on: trust. In our experience, high-performing teams consistently do three things which engender a high level of trust.
Trust Requires Vulnerability
First and foremost, high-performing teams are willing to be vulnerable with one another, particularly when it comes to sharing and accepting feedback. That means:
- Actively soliciting feedback from team members
- Attentively listening to others with an open heart and open mind
- Intentionally seeking to understand rather than getting defensive
Demonstrating vulnerability starts at the leadership level because that is where acceptable behavior gets taught to the rest of the organization. In other words, you – as the leader – need to be the first one to actively solicit feedback, attentively listen to your team members, and intentionally seek to understand and respond to what is being said. It starts with you.
We recognize that this may be a big ask. It will require leadership courage to ask for feedback rather than simply give it. It will take leadership courage to be vulnerable with both peers and direct reports. It will necessitate leadership courage to make changes based on the feedback you receive. But these behaviors send a powerful signal: by acting in this way, you affirm that it is okay to raise tough issues and to share alternative points of view. Your vulnerability will open the door for others to be vulnerable, laying a firm foundation of trust for your team.
Trust Requires Living into Core Values
The second action high-performing teams take with regard to trust is that they truly live into the company’s core values. Leaders make sure their teams have a thorough understanding of the company’s core values and then they demonstrate what it means to live into those values – both when it’s easy and when it’s hard. Again, your example becomes the model for the rest of the team. You prove that the company’s core values really matter, and that builds trust.
Living into the company’s core values also means being accountable and making corrections when necessary. For instance, if you as a leader fail to act in alignment with the company’s core values, you need to be vulnerable and listen to the feedback from your team (as noted in our first point), and acknowledge to the team that you acted in error. You should then talk about what needs to be done to repair the damage that was done by failing to live up to that particular value. Such an admission is a massive trust builder.
Trust Requires Putting the Business First
The final point we want to emphasize is that high-performing teams make decisions for the greater good of the company. They are not most interested in their personal, departmental, or functional agendas: they want to make decisions that are best for the company overall. Sometimes that even means making decisions that will diminish some of their own benefits, such as limiting opportunities for personal advancement or decreasing the control wielded by a certain department. It can also mean addressing tough people problems, such as eliminating a toxic employee even though he or she is a star performer.
These three actions lay the foundation of trust because they send the signal that we are all striving for a common goal, we are all working with common values, and we will all succeed if we are authentic and vulnerable.
To build the trust that is the foundation of a high-performing team:
- Be willing to be vulnerable, particularly when it comes to sharing and accepting feedback
- Live into your company’s core values and be accountable for doing so
- Make decisions for the greater good of the company – always