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Business at the Speed of Trust

Posted on February 05, 2013 by: Lisa Koss

“Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”
— Professor John Whitney, Columbia Business School

We recently facilitated an executive off-site retreat for a client group who is breaking new ground and pursuing a big business bet. In a fast-paced, high stakes environment, millions have been invested in bringing the best and the brightest together in rapid fashion. The pressure is on for this new group to perform. They know they are part of something exciting and cannot wait to achieve their vision.

But the team is not gelling well. There are differences in industry background, geographies, cultures, and management style. Some see themselves as rock stars, others are soft spoken team-players, and every style in between.

With that as context, many came to the off-site clearly impatient; everyone was concerned about the cohesiveness of the team. They acknowledged the lack of trust between them and most stated wanting the barriers to come down and for everyone to “open up”.

And yet most of them shared little. Those that did later wondered if they should have because that it felt risky. Certain leaders made valiant efforts to model openness but the team was not communicating fluidly. While the conversation evolved over the course of the event and some headway was made, many wondered afterwards why more of the group didn’t open up and asked themselves if enough was accomplished.

From our facilitator vantage point, having led many similar sessions, we’ve seen a spectrum of scenarios. Results often depend on the readiness of the group. Some groups experience huge leaps forward, and some only incremental advancement. But no matter what happens, this we know: (1) a group is exactly where it is supposed to be in its development based on the individuals in the group, and (2) the group needs to earn the trust it seeks.

Instead of asking if the offsite was “successful”, our question is “What will the group do to ensure the off-site was successful?” The work of such a group is not to show up and hope others will talk. The work for each leader is to leverage every opportunity to build an open relationship with each group member and earn the right to enjoy the trust and openness they seek. How? A few examples:

  • Ask others how you can support them better in achieving their goals
  • Demonstrate that you care about others’ goals as much as you care about your own
  • Articulate your thoughts and feelings publicly and consistently – even if it means you “stand alone”
  • Respectfully disagree, when you do
  • Acknowledge others by being appreciate and building on what others say (instead of injecting only your own differentiated perspective)
  • Employ good group process, honing your skills to know when to move from task to process, and vice versa

Leaders know — but seem to forget — that trust takes time. Trust must be earned. It takes time to earn confidence from your peers relative to your integrity and your abilities. And while the business needs are urgent and pressing, trust only accelerates the speed of business and reduces cost once it has been earned. Until then, it is an iterative process that takes time.

I believe leaders forget that there are two speeds when a group is forming: the speed of business and the speed of trust. They are not the same. The question to leaders is “How fast can you generate trust with others?”

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.”
– Stephen Covey

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