Creating Great Teams – Destroying Terrible Meetings: Trust & Conflict
Posted on April 12, 2019
Last week we discussed team dynamics. It’s probably clear that a good team relies on strong relationships among members. At its core, a team is a group of people who accomplish goals through relationships and combined expertise. A team of world-class experts with bad team dynamics will achieve very little.
Just as it plays a crucial role in working with students with trauma, trust is central to a team’s success. Trust in teams comes down to two critical aspects of the relationship: integrity in doing what you say you’re going to do and the ability to predict the quality of work. If I commit to a deadline and achieve it, the team will have trust that I will do the same in the future. Think of a time when someone said they were going to do something and failed to do it. How much confidence did you have in that person after that? One slacker who doesn’t pull their weight pulls down the performance of the entire team (Schwartz, 2010). Were you ever in a group where one of the members didn’t show up regularly and just couldn’t be counted on? How well did that team function?
To gain the trust of your teammates make sure they can always answer “Yes” to the following two questions concerning your behavior:
- If I say I’m going to do something, does it get done?
- People can predict that I will bring a high-quality of work to tasks that I take on?
Research shows that bad things happen when trust is absent in teams. Team members may hide their mistakes and fail to ask for help or to offer it to others. To summarize, when we don’t trust our team members, we won’t work hard and will hesitate to extend our positive attributes to the team. In the absence of trust, we think the worst of people’s intentions without reaching beyond ourselves to help and assist others, and we fail to recognize the positives that each member brings to the team. Grudges can develop, and resentments can grow. As a result, people start to dread meetings, find excuses not to attend and prevent the team from reaching its goals (Wagner and Harter, 2006; Lencioni, 2002).
High levels of trust lead to positive results. Members work harder, achieve better results, own their mistakes, take risks in offering constructive feedback, utilize their expertise to help others and the team, appreciate and tap into one another’s skills, ask for help, give others the benefit of the doubt, focus on essential issues, and look forward to meetings. In short, when we are with people we trust, we are our best selves. We think positively of others and their intentions and help when it is needed. There are few things more powerful than being part of a healthy team with members who care about each other (Wagner and Harter, 2006; Lencioni, 2002).
Great teams balance the development of personal connections with the professional outcomes your team needs to achieve. One great way to make this happen is starting meetings with fun and light personal questions.
- What is something about yourself that would surprise us?
- Tell us about the best day you have had in the last year?
- What was your favorite thing to do when you were a kid?
Short and fun questions open people up to one another and demonstrate commonalities that allow trust to build. If someone feels comfortable sharing a small personal thing, they are more likely to take a more substantial risk with the team or ask for help. You don’t have to spend a ton of time on these exercises, but research shows that the investment of time pays off many times over in excellent work commitment and increased team chemistry (Kelsey & Plumb).
If your team’s success relies on team cohesion and trust, what does it mean when there is conflict among team members? Many people are surprised to hear that a level of disagreement and conflict are good for a team. If all members of the team agree on everything and don’t have differences in opinion, there is no purpose in having the team. The power of teams comes from bringing together different philosophies and expertise. If managed correctly, creativity emerges from these different points of view and knowledge.
Teams that avoid conflict hold boring meetings, create atmospheres where politics and personal attacks dominate, avoid controversial topics that are critical to team success, fail to tap into the diversity of perspectives and expertise, and waste time and energy with posturing and hidden agendas. Teams that engage in constructive conflict have interesting and fun meetings, capture and utilize the ideas of all team members, solve important problems quickly and effectively, minimize politics and gossip, and able to put critical topics on the table for discussion (Lencioni, 2002).
- When you notice conflict within the team, try this approach:
- Identify whether the conflict belongs to the team or exists between certain individuals. If it doesn’t fall in the team’s purview, talk to the people individually and get their take on the issue.
- If it is a team issue say to the team, “I’m feeling like we are hitting a difference of opinion here and I wonder if the team would be open to taking some time to hear both sides as I think there might be more common ground than we think.”
- Have each side state their position without interruption. This step provides a great opportunity to remind everyone about the established team rules.
- Once each side has had a chance to voice their opinion, give the team a summary of what you heard to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Ask the entire team, “How does this difference of opinion impact our team’s work and how should we handle it moving forward?”
Bringing the conflict to the surface takes away its power to hinder the team’s progress. Even small conflicts that remain under the surface turn into barriers to achieving the team’s goals. Name the conflict and discuss it to build trust, strengthen relationships and ultimately lead to results.
Matt, I was once roped into being on a ‘Community Improvement’ committee, sponsored by the school district. At the first meeting the question was asked ‘what needs to be done to improve our community?’ Looking around, I replied, “All the old white people need to die. Our school system is 87% Hispanic, yet all I see on this committee are old white people.” Their reply? Literally, the committee chair said, “OK, everyone needs to bring a brown person to the next meeting.” Needless to say, I didn’t last long on the committee and the group itself didn’t last much longer.
Wow…getting the right people at the table is absolutely critical and so often overlooked at great cost.
My team is experiencing some challenges, this is very helpful. Thank you for this posting.
Thanks Sandy, glad it is helpful!