High performance teams take risks. They take calculated risks, but real risks that can have bad outcomes. And consistently taking risks, and making sure that enough of those risks pay off, requires trust.

When was the last time you trusted something important to you, something that could determine your future, to a teammate?

If you really think about it, the answer is probably “today.”

If you are doing something important, you are probably trusting teammates with something mission critical right now.

How do you build trust on a team?

Accountability and Trust

Transparency; accountability; forgiveness. You need all three. And you can’t really have one without the others.

I suppose blind trust is one form of trust. I don’t know what you are doing, and I don’t really care as long as you get it done. This is how a lot of people view the work that engineers do. And too many engineers look at sales as some kind of sophisticated bull shitting. Both are bad attitudes. It is not hard to understand the basics of software engineering.  And modern sales approaches, like solution selling or more recently the Challenger sale are based on a deep understanding of a client’s business and real solutions.

Transparency and accountability come together. Take sales compensation for example. Managers have long known that the best way to compensate sales people is based on gross margin. Compensating on revenue leads to all sorts of undesirable behaviors. Sales people discount aggressively to get the sale and they sell low profit work as aggressively as high profit work. So why don’t more companies compensate on gross profit? The biggest barrier is that sales people simply don’t believe the gross margin numbers. There is not enough transparency in the organization for the sales people to trust the numbers they are given. The lack of trust is mutual. I have often heard managers tell me that ‘we can’t give sales people margin numbers as they will just use this to discount our profits away.’

Without accountability there is not much need for forgiveness. The key to teams is that there to be both individual and team accountability (or as the lawyers like to say, we are ‘jointly and severally responsible”). Jointly because team members rely on each other. Severally because we can’t let ourselves hide our own failures by blaming them on the team.

You do not get real transparency without forgiveness. If there is no allowance for failure, or even normal human weakness, then people will hide failures and conceal what they are doing. That is no way to build trust.

Boiling this down, accountability requires transparency, transparency requires forgiveness and all three together are needed to build trust.

Want to learn more about trust the role it plays in building effective teams? See Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Building trust by using TeamFit

TeamFit assumes a certain level of trust between team members. You have to trust your team members to give you honest feedback on your skills. Honest feedback. Saying a person is a ‘guru’ that external experts refer to them, when they are really only an internal ‘expert’ does not fool anyone. On the other hand, you some times see teams where people hold a grudge against a person and mark them down. Gifting and grieving are both anti-team behaviors. They reduce accountability and transparency and ultimately trust. We are thinking hard about how to handle these in TeamFit. Our SkillRank™ algorithm does account for these. And when either is detected the weighting of endorsements in calculating the SkillRank for a skill is reduced. But is that enough?

What do you do on your teams to manage grieving and grifting behaviors?

On thing we do on TeamFit to promote trust is to make it easy to propose a skill to people on your team. As you watch them work, learn and rise up to meet challenges suggest new skills to people. Give a skill a day!

TeamFit screenshot Suggest a skill

The return on trust

Building trust takes an investment. You have to build up systems for transparency and accountability and make their use a habit. Leaders have to have the courage to forgive. Really forgive that is, and not drag out past failures when convenient. But the return on trust is huge. Trust people and they will trust you. Trust is the foundation on which teams are built. And teams are the drivers of performance in a complex world.