I’d Rather Work with Someone I Trust: Teams, Performance, and Trust

A Washington DC-based life sciences company functions — and thrives — based on the work of its numerous project teams. One of the company’s most productive and effective project teams recently wrapped up a major project. As the senior team was reviewing their work, the CEO observed that none of the members of the team were among the company’s recognized “stars.”

Don’t misunderstand, the team members were very strong performers in their own right. It was simply interesting, noted the CEO, that other teams which included the company’s highest-flying performers and known “players” were often not as successful as this team.

“I would examine their levels of trust first,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “Our executive coaching practice uses Patrick Lencioni’s ‘5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team’ model — consistently, we find that trust is the bedrock on which high performance teams are built.” For more, read Arden Coaching’s “Trust Me! All Team Performance Starts With Trust.”

Perry says that just because someone is an all-star performer or a brilliant company player, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are trustworthy. She also emphasizes that it’s a specific type of trust that’s important — vulnerability-based trust. “It is trust that’s built on going beyond ‘I trust that they’ll finish their work on time,’ or ‘I trust that they’ll do a good job.’”

Vulnerability-based trust means the team is open, and respectfully honest with each other, creating a safe environment within the team to assure its success. In order to do that, you must make yourself vulnerable.

“This level of trust is found in team members who help the teammate who’s child is sick and needs to go home early, or say ‘Wow, I really blew that one’ when everyone knows it’s true, or offers to spend some of their department’s budget to make up a shortfall when someone else’s department discovers an unexpected, urgent need for a temporary staff person.”

Simon Sinek’s discussion of Navy Seal Team 6 and performance versus trust is an excellent case in point. Elite Navy Seal teams demand very high levels of performance, but in assembling their teams, team members value trust even more highly than pure performance. A trustworthy person will be selected to join a Seal team, even if that means giving up a little bit of performance. On the other hand, individuals who are extraordinarily high performers but not trustworthy, diminish the team’s chances for success. Untrustworthy individual high performers are toxic to team performance, and not selected.

We tend to be so focused on performance in how we measure and assess people that it’s easy to assume that a collection of high performers will be the ultimate team. How often do we hear (or say ourselves)… “Yes, this person can’t always be counted on, and they are difficult to work with, but no one at the company has more expertise about the topic — you need this person on your team.”

The idea that trust is an essential starting point for group work has important implications for all leaders. How trustworthy are you? How can you foster higher levels of trust among your employees? How might you measure (and reward) trust the way you measure and reward performance? For more read, “I Know You, I Like You…Can I Trust You?” and “Thirteen Behaviors of a High Trust Leader.”

Start with trust and build your organization’s success from there.

To learn more about high performance teams, leadership, and executive coaching, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.