Monday, April 7, 2008

Trust and Teams

Are there trust issues on your team?

How do you know? When there seem to be more and more secrets--things that everyone can't know--there are trust issues. When the words: "Don't tell ___ about ____" are being used, then there are definite trust issues. At this point the team is in trouble.

To develop the closeness which helps teams overcome rough times, secrets need to be minimized. If there is something out there which affects the team--then everyone on the team needs to be aware of it. Look at it another way--if there is an issue and members it is being kept from some members of the team, then the team is not able to fully use all of its resources to overcome the issue. It is like playing a baseball game with only seven players instead of nine. The team is handicapped even before the first pitch.

So the question the leader has to ask is: "Why do I not trust my team with this information?" or "Why do I only trust certain members of the team?" The savvy leader recognizes that there are no real secrets on close teams anyway. The whole idea of secrets and trust may be related to concern about control of the team. But in the end, the trust issues not handled properly will fracture a team and render it ineffective.

How does a leader handle proprietary secrets that senior leadership indicates may not be shared? Don't let the team know you have a secret. Someone else has determined that your team is not trustworthy. The leader's job is to convince that leadership that the team is indeed trustworthy and failing that, do not indicate to the team that there are trust issues with higher leadership. It is really demoralizing for someone to say: "I know what's up and I can't tell you." Coming from the background I do, I fully believe the best approach is to deny knowledge at all of the larger situation for the benefit of the team. Good leaders will protect their team.

But what if someone violates the leader's trust? Look, it's going to happen anyway sometime. The benefits of what I like to call "transparency" far outweigh the potential losses caused by occasional trust violations. We are dealing with people--and people make mistakes and interpret situations very differently. Why give people a reason to believe you are not being honest with them? Both in the good and the bad information. Expect people to be adults and even when getting bad news, set the expectation that bad news will be dealt with in a mature and encouraging manner.

Leaders need to look at themselves. How do they handle honest communication. Killing the messenger of bad news, although I do like the scene from the movie 300, doesn't change the news and generally does not encourage the openness and transparency necessary for effective teams. Leaders need to be able to hear the bad news, too. And to keep openness alive on a team they need to be able to hear bad news from their team.

Trust the members of your team--with the good and the bad. Allow and enable them to participate in decisions and situations which affect members of the team. Do not play the "I've gotta secret" game. Grow the team into one that pulls together when times are tough and plays together when they can and you will have created a team that will rise to levels even the leaders did not imagine possible.

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