Trey Northrup, Leader, LIXIL America.
Have you ever seen young children play football? My daughters are playing, and I can tell you there is nothing fun about it. Eleven kids follow the football across the field like a blob or a swarm of bees, don’t play their positions and certainly don’t run the ball. Affectionately called ‘Beehive Soccer’, it is the antithesis of what it means to be part of a team.
As children grow and become more accustomed to playing the game, they stay put, learn to pass and rely on each other to score. The defense knows that the midfielder will be there to receive their pass, the midfielder can be counted on to get the ball to the attacker and the attacker will be able to score. They have become a team that trusts each other to do the right thing.
I don’t see “Beehive Soccer” every day, but I see “Beehive Business”. The reality is that no one can do their job completely alone. It takes a village – management, customer service, product marketers and colleagues in the supply chain – to make a sale. We can’t just point at one person and say, “You are fully responsible for our great results.” It turns out that implementing a strategy is a team effort.
Being part of a well-functioning team is a powerful thing. It gives you a sense of belonging and camaraderie. It’s reassuring to know that someone is behind you and will take some of the burden off your shoulders.
But how do we build this well-functioning team? Do managers simply assign a team of like-minded individuals and say, “Meet our targets for the fiscal year”? Can we leave everyone to their own devices to figure out how to make a plan and allocate responsibilities, and then expect everything to simply click?
Expecting a team to instantly merge and deliver the goods is just crazy. You need to learn a little bit about each other – your work styles, habits and goals. How do you get there? It all comes down to trust.
Trust is essential for an effective team because it means you can trust someone else to do the right thing. You believe in the person’s expertise to the extent that you are able to relinquish some control.
Take it from me – this is not an easy thing to do. There is an element of sacrifice in giving up control. You may need to let go of a project you’ve been working on for a while or a plan you helped build. But if you keep everything close to the vest, there’s less innovation, collaboration, creative thinking and productivity. Let’s face it: without trust, we protect ourselves and our own interests by default.
There is no magic formula for gaining trust, but in my experience there are some common sense basics that every leader should know and practice.
• Be honest.
• Do what you say you will do.
• Show how you do it.
• Listen to and acknowledge others.
• Implement feedback when it makes sense, and take the time to explain why it doesn’t.
• Change course if you’re wrong.
Do all of this consistently and you’ll lay the foundation for a culture of trust.
Four steps to build trust
Building trust is essential for team building, especially if you are in a hybrid or geographically dispersed organization where your employees enjoy a higher degree of autonomy and ownership of their work. This relatively new way of working can present a number of challenges to building a team; but with confidence it is not difficult to get there. Here are my four recommendations for doing just that.
1. Start small. Assign less invasive projects to the team so they can get to know each other and work together.
2. Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither was a well-functioning team. Overnight success is a myth, so keep building that team confidence even when you experience setbacks.
3. Transparency is key. Provide team members with a forum and a safe space to raise issues and express their views.
4. Assume a positive intention. Believe that everyone is doing their best for the team. Diverse perspectives lead to growth and improvement.
Building a culture of teamwork and trust takes a lot of time and energy. But the end result is a framework for long-term success.