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Trust is Built Under Fire

Teamwork isn’t rocket science and that is what makes it so challenging! Teamwork is not based on your smarts, but your ability to continually be real, vulnerable, and curious with your teammates.

Most business leaders are plenty smart. Rarely when we work with executive teams are we faced with people who don’t: understand their business, have a healthy IQ or possess business savvy. If what teamwork required was IQ, it wouldn’t be so hard to achieve and sustain.

Teamwork is NOT about smarts and it won’t be accomplished through reading books about establishing the right Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for your business or leadership team.

Sure, smarts and KPI’s are important for business success – but they aren’t going to be the best levers for building a healthy, cohesive team. Frankly, too much focus on measures and numbers might be creating a barrier to team performance.

You might think that what makes a team great is its ability to measure and get to great results. However, you’d be missing a key invisible ingredient.

Teams are not built by showing up having the right answer and being strategic in meetings. Teams are built when you can be personal, real, and curious with your teammates. Rather than protecting or defending your project or department – you need to be willing to drop into being real, vulnerable, be willing to make a mistake, ask a question, and deal with uncertainty.

What gets teams to those great results is built upon trust – not numbers. Trust is hard to measure, yet you know when you have it. Building trust is not a one-and-done process. It takes constant tending. Plus, each person has a unique need when it comes to how they experience trust.

Today’s leaders may recognize the need for building trust within their teams. However, trust isn’t built by simply having time together or doing social activities – like golf or establishing the office Fantasy Football league.

No – those things may support building relationships. But what really builds trust is showing up under fire with each other and being open, honest, and real. Not nice and polite, but showing up and saying what you really think, feel, and want. It also means being interested in the impact you have on others and adjusting as you go.

This does not come naturally, nor is it an end result that comes from one big win. It demands on-going discipline and a commitment to getting messy, real, and raw with each other – over and over. One big win won’t build a great team. The truth is, teams are often built best when the chips are down, when the win isn’t in sight, and when there’s even more work to get done together.

Business leaders are well paid to win. To be strategic, leaders must have a strong opinion that is generally looked upon as ‘right’ – in other words, they can competently handle, defend, and protect company resources.

However, those same attributes if used in team meetings will erode trust and lead to silos, politics and turf wars.

That is what makes leadership and teamwork so damn hard.

You need to know when to be strategic and tough in your role, versus when to be personal, vulnerable, and real.

For example:

Recently, we worked with an executive team. The leader, Sam, had amazing talent around the table. He was truly excited about the possibilities created by acquiring two new highly innovative products from other companies. These, when rolled out alongside the core business line, would move the overall business to a whole new level in the market.

Sam contacted us because he knew that his leadership team needed to develop more cohesion and trust if this vision was going to happen.

The company, and specifically the leadership team, now three months into the second acquisition, were still showing signs of dysfunction. Individuals were doing some great work but sharing resources and committing to collective results was not happening. The vision was getting bogged down in in-house competition and egos.

Sam had been saying all the right things about the importance of teamwork and learning to trust each other. However, he was the first to admit that he assumed time and focused effort would get the needed trust developed. Time was now ticking, and trust and teamwork were nowhere in sight.

In our two day off-site, as we defined teamwork, and the underlying importance of being willing to drop the egos, lean into discomfort, be vulnerable, and curious about each other, it became obvious that not everyone was on board. No. People were not bought into the vision. Some didn’t even see the value or want to work as a team.

One obvious solution would be to continue to operate as separate business lines or get new team members who did see the possibility in working as a team. Sam acknowledged to us that he was strongly thinking of the latter, if this off-site didn’t create a shift.

We asked if he had shared his concerns directly and openly with the team.

Sam’s response was quick and clear, “No – that would be too direct and might undermine the developing relationships. I want to be patient and let people get know each other and recognize the talent around the table.”

We pointed out that if he wasn’t transparent and real about trying to get this leadership team to work together, he would likely fail.

“Sam – you need show up and be honest with them. Talk about the things you are seeing and not liking. Have the tough conversations and listen to why one or more of your team members are questioning the vision. Don’t hold back now and then replace team members later – speak up.”

Fortunately, Sam was open to the idea. The next day and a half wasn’t comfortable. And at the end of our time together, it still wasn’t clear if everyone was willing to commit to be a team. However, what did occur was a great deal of frank, honest dialogue about past issues, toes that had been stepped on, and egos that were being challenged.

When we closed, we weren’t able to wrap it all up with a shared vision. However, what the team did commit to doing was having more meetings with open dialogue and adjusting the vision to fit all, which would be rolled-out in a two-month time period.

Each member agreed that they would be all in, engage in regular team meetings. And if after two months they could not agree and commit, they would step off the leadership team.

Sam agreed to the plan. We supported the weekly strategic meetings that were set aside. In the end, all but one team member was fully onboard. The one team member who did not want work as a team stepped away from the business.

Though this was an extensive off-road excursion in Sam’s map towards company success, he is now very excited about the velocity and team direction.

He is also very clear that building and maintaining his team is going to be an on-going commitment to getting messy and real. The results and just as importantly the excitement and engagement he can both measure and feel has been worth the effort.

Teamwork is worth it. But don’t imagine that it is easy or comes with simply being super smart.

It takes vulnerability, courage, and curiosity, AND it likely won’t score high marks, applause, or be measurable on a KPI dashboard.

Building and maintaining trust isn’t a number – it’s an ongoing effort.

Build Your Team Trust Under Fire,


P.S. If you’d like to help your team become high performing, check out our Kick Start Your Team or give us a call 406.730.2710. We can help create your cohesive, high performing team.

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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