Making a strong, high-performing team

Trust is one of those fickle things that takes time to create.

As part of 6-person consulting team known as 7Cs Consulting, I learned this first-hand early in my consulting career.

When we received a new client, our first task was to create an intro packet detailing all the consultants’ names, their roles, timeline for the project, and what we would need from the leadership team.

Being new to the team, I was tasked with creating this. I worked into the evening, created a draft, and submitted to the team and went to sleep.

I woke up to find out that someone on the team didn’t like what I had created and went ahead and had submitted a totally different document. In truth it was definitely better than mine 😞

That bruised my ego.

“How could she just do that without asking me first? Doesn’t she know I spent hours creating that!”, I remember telling myself enraged.

The 7Cs Consulting Group — minus me

For most people, they would have buried this anger and just moved on.

But in our next meeting, I decided to bring it up.

“Look, I know my draft’s design features weren’t that good but I felt really disrespected by your actions without even telling me about it ahead of time... Though I admit, what you submitted was way better…”

My teammate immediately replied and said, “Wow I had no idea you would have been disrespected by that. Honestly, I was more worried about the project and making sure the client got something that was high quality since it was already late at night. But looking back at it, I should have at least said something to you...”

Everyone on the team was shocked with how easily a potentially intense situation was resolved.

And because it occurred early on, it also made our team stronger. It created trust that we could get through difficult situations together. And my realness made it so the entire team felt safe enough to share their own vulnerability going forward.

WHAT MAKES A STRONG TEAM

Researcher and author Paul J. Zak found that high-performing companiesthat had a high level of trust out-performed their competitors.

Resulting in the team being more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay.

And the teams that had the highest level of trust intentionally fostered it.

Source: Re-work / Google

A two-year study from Google added to this by showing that the best-performing teams all had one thing in common: psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the ability of a team to trust that they can take risks, be candid, and offer ideas without fear of embarrassment or backlash.

No personalization.

No patronization.

Simply a team putting their best forward in their quest to get the job done.

Psychological safety is the building block that sets subpar teams apart from high-performing ones. Teams can have open disagreement, offer out-the-box solutions, and feel safe taking calculated risks together when the pressure is high.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But team members can get in a rut, relying on subtle social cues that reinforce group think, which cancels out the ability for people to feel safe to offer different opinions of thought.

The key is making sure that teams interact with each other in a real and open way on a consistent basis.

WHAT MATTERS MOST IS HOW A TEAM INTERACTS

Straight out of college, John had just joined a scaling startup’s marketing team. A four-person team, John was filled with a lot of ideas and an eagerness to prove himself to the team. But the minute he joined the team he realized everyone was already friends, had their own inside jokes, and an established way of doing things. He was hoping he could break through and establish himself early on.

During their first all-hands-on meeting with the four-person team, a lot of John’s ideas were quickly shot down without explanation. John felt humiliated, as if he didn’t have anything to contribute, which left him not wanting to speak up again in future meeting. No one knew this. Overtime, John became the quiet type and everyone on the team that’s just how he was.

Teams are made up of moments like these.

Had John been approached with curiosity and validated for his contributions he would have felt differently (even if his ideas were shot down).

Building a culture of trust can be a powerful way to improve performance. Neuroscientific research shows that trust reduces social frictions and promotes cooperative behavior among colleagues — and that managers can create high-trust, high-performance teams. — Paul J. ZakThat’s why building a culture of trust and safety are paramount for getting teams to be high-performing.

When leaders model integrity, candor and honesty, these beliefs translate to their culture, which are then picked up by their employees at all levels.

Behaving this way inspires employees to let down their guards and also be open about their own areas of vulnerability, where they need help, and how to grow.

Which is the key of creating strong teams.

Bottom line: The teams that that accomplish more together simply do so because they can trust each other. Create this by creating a culture that supports open feedback and disagreement so that everyone can put their speak out together.