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Your Team - Do You Trust Them?

Do They Trust You?

There is a parable that speaks to what distinguishes belief from faith. Belief, it says, implies that one might believe that a circus performer, up on a high wire, pushing a wheelbarrow, will indeed push it all the way across the high wire without falling. That's belief.

Faith is the willingness to get into his wheelbarrow!

Faith requires trust. Trust is the single most important characteristic that a successful team or workgroup can have. Absence of Trust was listed by Patrick Lencioni in his bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as the Number One dysfunction, trumping everything else. Without trust, he said, teams become unwilling to risk engaging in healthy conflict. As a result, they cannot entertain change or new ideas. The consequences are, for most teams, crippling. They are unable to make any real progress.

So, how can we facilitate and create this very important characteristic of more trust within a workgroup or small team?

In our team building discipline there has been a lot of power placed on going outside and doing the classic Trust Fall; falling backwards from a formidable height into the arms of our workmates. This requires an extraordinary amount of trust and confidence in our workmates' capabilities.

Undoubtedly, this exercise is both highly effective and extremely powerful - emotionally and physically. But, even with this profound experience, have we really addressed the needs of the day in day out dynamic of the workplace? Are we then better prepared to fearlessly enter a conference room, put forward our new ideas under intense scrutiny while taking on the group's objections? Is the trust that is "fixed" with the Trust Fall the same trust we'll need in the normal commerce of the workplace?

If team members are not genuinely open with each other about their mistakes and weaknesses, it is impossible to build a foundation of trust. The ability to get team members to simply open up personally and become vulnerable is a huge step towards a establishing a new threshold of trust.

This requires advanced leadership skills, some common sense and, most of all, the willingness and courage to go first and lead by example.  We can't expect others to be honest and open about their likes and dislikes, their true feelings, their personal thoughts and such unless we are willing to let them see us as vulnerable first. It is the group leader and forward-thinking manager that needs to get the ball rolling. Good leaders are more forthcoming. They let their personal information have free flow. They cop to their mistakes and shortcomings. They are willing to express their basic humanity - foibles and all.

Trust Building Activity. We have facilitated a number of activities that speak to strengthening trust within work groups. One such activity we call "20 Questions". This is simple to facilitate and easy enough to develop the props. Grab a stack of 3 x 5 cards. Put a thought-provoking and open-ended question on each card. One of my favorites is, "If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would that be and why?"

Budget 15 to 20 minutes "Team Progress Time" for this activity. Gather your group to stand in a relatively small area. Give each member a card. Have them quickly and randomly find a partner. Each partner then asks their printed question of the other. Have them exchange cards and repeat the asking and answering process. Then have everyone switch partners with people closest to them. They ask and answer the new questions, exchange cards, switch partners again and the process continues. In as little as twenty minutes team members have acquired huge chunks of knowledge about their work colleagues that would take considerably longer to learn under normal circumstances. They have gained some insight at a deeper level. Plus, it can be a lot of fun!

And, you know what? Trust begins to take root. We now know a little bit more about what makes us tick; what we like and dislike, what we dream about and more.

With a regular application of trust building exercises and initiatives the team becomes more and more glued to each other and to the overall process - trust becomes a valuable working component of the group.

Because of the current economic climate, many companies have had to cut expenses and trim staff. The question remains, "Now what?"

The answer is: by valuing and addressing your most important assets - your people - and establishing a firm foundation of trust - the winners will emerge.

By Jeff Blum, Lead Facilitator at The TeamBuilding Co.

Copyright 2011 Jeff Blum. All rights reserved.