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Advice from High Performing Managers: Principles for Building Team Trust
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One of the tasks I had the pleasure of performing for many years at Xerox was to facilitate a three-hour segment at our semi-annual Developing Executives Workshop. While I did several exercises to help these high-potential individuals better understand the behavior of great leaders, I used a portion of that time during some of the early sessions for them to wrestle with this burning question:

"What do you believe are the core operating principles all team members — including the manager — need to live by, on a daily basis, in order to develop trust within and across work teams?"

We would develop ideas in sub-teams, share them with the whole group, and then debate merits of the ideas and build a refined list. Over several sessions, each refined list was further added to, subtracted from, continually modified and polished.

Over several workshops, a small set of behaviors evolved for managers to perform routinely AS WELL AS a set for both managers and teammates to carry out on a collaborative basis. And, what was unique about this final set of principles was they were created bottom-up directly from the learning experiences — both positive and negative — by outstanding high potential individuals with bright organizational futures.

So if you are looking for ways to build trust within and across you teams and functions, there is no better place to start than right here with these insightful principles.

You may ask, why should I bother doing this? You should be motivated to take action if you just keep in mind this organizational truism — "Trust is the road over which everything else rides!"

For Managers

Believe in us — our motives, knowledge and skills

  • Get to know each team member's capabilities, interests and skills.
  • Understand the process capability of your full team and build on it.
  • Share information with team members that will allow them to understand their tasks and how they fit into the bigger picture.
  • Have faith in team members to set appropriate objectives.
  • Delegate decision-making authority: We want it; we need it; we won’t abuse it.
  • Negotiate realistic expectations, then have faith in team members’ ability to deliver what we are being paid to do.

Provide honest business communication

  • Share good and bad results.
  • Tell the truth —always; no sugar coating, no politics, no spin doctoring.

For Both Managers and Teammates

Demonstrate open, honest communication at all times

  • Your word is your bond!
  • Share information that is important to others — no hidden agendas.
  • Explain reasons behind statements, requests and decisions.
  • Recognize fruitful friction as a key to critical thinking, and respect another teammate’s right to disagree.
  • Criticize constructively by sticking to the issue and not getting personal.
  • Demonstrate that you are listening with understanding — even if you disagree — by periodically clarifying and confirming what others are saying.

Make realistic commitments and keep them

  • If you say it, do it!
  • Do not over commit. Know your process capability so you can make realistic commitments to one another.
  • Admit you don’t know something versus giving a wrong answer or making a false promise.
  • If you find, because of changing circumstances, you can’t keep your commitment, renegotiate it.

Work together

  • Be responsive to one another's needs by offering, and accepting, assistance.
  • Welcome the messenger who brings bad news at the earliest possible opportunity because this maximizes one's ability to deal with it.
  • Form natural and informal sub-teams to 'move the ball forward' and accomplish tasks that are critical but languishing.
  • Bring potential solutions to the table along with the problem.

Where to Go from Here

You can discuss these principles with your teammates, gain commitment to live by and to practice them. Or, you can use this behavioral set as a starting point and make your own refinements to craft them to your own needs. Regardless of the path chosen, you and your team will feel trust begin to grow and shape how your team operates.

As said earlier, "Trust is the road over which everything else rides!" Without it, your organization will be built on a pile of shifting, whispering sand and you will be severely hampered in any attempts to build genuine commitment, loyalty, collaboration, and productivity among your team members.