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What Kills Business Teams – it’s a Matter of Trust

Build_Team_Trust.jpegIf you're curious why many teams of varying sizes fail, one reason may surprise you. Sometimes a paralyzing emphasis on quality can be so overwhelming, it stagnates the team.

I was speaking with a business owner who was disbanding a partnership of two years.  When I asked him what he felt was the key cause, he said it came down to difference in management approach. He believed you trusted your employees to do a good job, but he had come to realize his partner felt you had to assess, audit, check and ensure your employees were doing a good job, because chances were, they may not be. That was such a big difference in philosophy, it destroyed their partnership. So, what does the role of quality assurance play in a business?  

Is it as easy as hiring the right people, then getting out of the way? How does a firm know it’s doing a great job for clients or versus being a helicopter, hovering, checking and ensuring something doesn’t go wrong? The latter atmosphere can turn into a toxic culture where no one feels comfortable making a move without the approval of the powers that be. And it can happen more quickly than you can realize.

For example, when one of my kids entered third grade, his teacher mandated a precise format for how every reading question must be answered. As answers were repeatedly marked incorrect whenever formatting was not wholly on target, I along with fellow parents witnessed dismayed kiddos whose passion for reading stalled because they were told their answers were incorrect for not adhering to formatting standards.

Fast forward a few months, as I watch this teacher field questions from her students about an upcoming field trip. She was visibly exasperated at the level of detail from her students’ questions, such as, “When I write my paper about the field trip, do I need to put my name on the right side or the left side of the paper?” In a short time, she created an environment where her students were afraid of making a mistake. From question after question ("Is it OK if I sit next to Malia on the bus?"), they were paralyzed about making the wrong decision and didn’t feel comfortable without checking with her first. Worse still, she was oblivious to her contribution that shaped her students’ behavior.

What Does Trust Mean to your Bottom Line?

Just like the requirement of how to formulate a “correct” answer can turn students into mere robots, continually checking up on employees to ensure something doesn't go wrong demotivates them. Psychology professor and author of The Truth About Trust, DavidDeSteno, told Harvard Business Review that trust is essential to improving employee engagement, since employees are more likely to follow through on goals and be honest about challenges when they trust their manager.

A culture based on trust means more for your bottom line. ERE Media, which reports on news related to human resources and recruiting, reports less than 50 percent of employees trust senior management, yet companies with high levels of trust beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by three times. 

No matter how much you’d prefer to prevent mistakes, hyper-focusing on quality assurance can make everyone's work, including yours, suffer. Skilled employees devise ways to face and overcome challenges that may be more efficient than your suggestions. They'll also use mistakes as opportunities to learn personalized lessons that are relevant to them. 

Protectionism can be the worst kind of perfectionism, since it stifles learning and professional growth. Did you learn more when your parents tried to prevent you from making a mistake, or when you made a mistake and had to pick up the pieces?

But They Need to Earn My Trust--Or Do They?

What a great question. At Trumpet, we’ve learned that when we hire to our shared values, it’s easier to give trust out of the gate. At the 90-day mark following a new hire, it’s obvious whether new team members are living up to our shared values. So, instead of monitoring or hovering, we've witnessed the immensely powerful effect that having a strong set of shared values has on both employee morale and business growth. Our values include:

  • We set the bar high and create the “wow” factor.
  • Our team is our other family.
  • We are empowered. 
  • We find harmony between work and play.
  • We're always getting better.
  • We care about others.
  • We do the right thing.

It's also easy to identify when shared values are not being followed, to hire and fire based on shared values, and to have a conversation should someone not be living up to their shared commitment.  

Imagine, a business that celebrates mistakes. Due to our values of “we are always getting better” and “do the right thing,” it’s a lot easier for a team member to post about a mistake via our internal forums. Since “we are empowered,” when that team member describes root cause and how they solved the issue, it fosters learning among the team without anyone looking over anyone’s shoulder. It’s a self-managing process.

So, what’s the take-away? Create shared values as a team, make them acutely visible, and talk about them continuously. At Trumpet, our values are painted on walls throughout our office, and we share a few value success stories at every staff meeting.

Once you define your values, these are the standards which you uphold. That means you pass the trust baton to your team members early, not years after they’ve “earned it.” Skilled people want to work with a firm that shares their values, not one that dominates with a quality assurance environment. Instead of being the type of firm or leader so absorbed with quality assurance that you paralyze your team, devote yourself to hiring skilled people who are a great cultural fit. Then, your culture becomes your secret sauce to allow your business to really succeed.

What does your firm do to create a culture of trust or shared values? We'd love to hear from you in the comments, and feel free to share your firm’s values as well.

Trumpet’s purpose is to help people enjoy the way the work. Trumpet designs technology tools like Worldox document management and Assemblage report automation to give your team even more time to be creative. Learn more about our products that help you enjoy the way you work. 


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Jo Day

Jo Day

Jo loves learning about interesting problems and how people are solving them. Jo is well known for connecting people and ideas and is a great catalyst (moo!) to change. Where some people see the world through rose colored glasses, Jo sees the world through processes. When Jo isn't hanging out with her family, Jo's favorite hobbies are being anywhere outdoors and coming up with new business ideas – just for fun!