I recently had the opportunity to work with a newly formed senior leadership team with 11 people. I have been coaching the leader of the team who is the senior manager in his oﬃce for over a year. It was an optimal assignment for me because my coaching client had very carefully chosen all the team members. So, the “right” people” were in the “right” seats. In addition, everyone was interested and excited to be a part of this leadership team’s first retreat.
This retreat focused on building trust. Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” says that trust is the foundation for a high performing team. He also says that vulnerability and courage build trust. My job as the retreat facilitator was to create a safe space for these 11 people to begin team formation, and to design and facilitate exercises to build trust. Essentially, I had the assignment of pushing everyone out of their comfort zone, but of course not pushing too hard so that there would be resistance.
We did several trust exercises. The one that really seemed to make a diﬀerence required all 11 people to both give and receive feedback to and from all other 10 team members. I set the exercise up by asking each person to take some quiet reflective time to ponder these two questions about the other 10 people:
- what is this person’s most significant contribution to the team?
- what is one thing this person does that detracts from the team?
I had the team leader go first. He sat in the middle of a semi-circle while each person gave him the “positive” feedback. When that was done, each person gave him the more critical feedback. I think having him go first really worked because he gracefully listened, received and acknowledged what everyone said. He was open and vulnerable.
I was amazed at how clear and courageous everyone was. On occasion I asked clarifying questions and supported a team member to clarify what they were trying to convey. It seemed that there were many breakthroughs. This exercise set the tone for the whole retreat. It was a great start in the journey of building a high performing team. But as Patrick Lencioni also says, being courageous and vulnerable can’t just be a one-time thing that happens at an offsite retreat. So my next conversation with my coaching client will be what he intends to do to continue to build trust, consistently and regularly over time.