This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of @MPIGNY, the magazine of MPI Greater New York Chapter, and is used with permission.
Adding team-building programs to your corporate event isn’t effective unless there’s already a level of trust in your organization. Coming from the founder of a firm that specializes in corporate team-building events, this statement may have surprised you. You may have expected me to say that I can improve any team, even an underperforming or dysfunctional group, by taking them “out of their comfort zone” and putting them through a collective experience. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Teams that operate without trust will ultimately fall apart. A lack of trust among team members creates an environment of negativity, inefficiency and low morale. The lack of transparency causes staffers to operate in their own self-interest instead of considering what’s best for the team.
Steve Bova, CAE, executive director of FICP (Financial & Insurance Conference Planners), recently said, “Whatever the desired outcome, the first step in team-building is trust-building. Teams can’t work effectively together without a basic level of mutual trust and respect.”
I agree, wholeheartedly. A three-hour team-building session won’t reverse the underlying challenges found in a weak company culture. Strong company cultures are based on a foundation of trust, and building that assurance takes time. Next, it takes effort to maintain the momentum of new skills learned at corporate team-building events. Creating a strong company culture isn’t a task you do once and mark it off your list. Once you’ve established trust among your teams, it’s vital to establish an annual program of activities that nourish the group as a whole. These ongoing programs lead to top-performing teams that communicate, collaborate and produce results.
My non-traditional career path provides an interesting case study on trust and its importance in team-building, and I incorporate these lessons into every training program I create. How do you foster integrity among your teams? In my experience, the building blocks for establishing trust are honesty, shared goals, well-defined performance metrics, clear communication and team collaboration.
Honesty and Integrity
Being honest might sound a bit trite, but our brutal commitment to honesty is one of my team’s core values. For example, if someone makes a mistake during pre-production for an event, they instantly let the team and client know. There’s never a thought of covering it up. Life isn’t perfect, and I know events aren’t always perfect. If I was always hearing “the gig went off without a hitch,” then I would quickly lose trust in my team. By always telling it to each other straight, it makes life easier and builds a culture of integrity.
Commitment to Shared Goals
Throughout my corporate roles, each staffer’s commitment to quality was the bedrock of trust in our teams. Everyone was committed to producing a high-quality product or service, and our attention to detail was relentless. A shared commitment to quality leads team members to support each other and go the extra mile for the good of the order. Knowing that you’re working alongside motivated professionals that will hold each other accountable is a strong motivator, and it builds trust in the team.
Well-Defined Score Cards
During my time at IBM, I witnessed the value of clearly defining performance metrics for teams. When commission structures got too complicated or the goal posts were moved for sales teams, trouble always followed. Articles show that money isn’t a prime motivator, but we’ve all witnessed the internal office chatter when goals are vague and teams feel slighted, undervalued or unclear about expectations. I learned that teams are more motivated to work hard when they trust their efforts are appreciated.
Clear and Constant Communication
When teams don’t communicate regularly, problems sprout up quickly. The less teams talk to each other, the more they have to “fill in the blanks” in their own imagination about why things are being done and where the business is going. It’s human nature to construct a reason in your head, but your “guess” is often going to be at least partially wrong. I discovered when colleagues communicate with care and compassion, it leads to a culture of trust.
Team Collaboration and Inclusion
Early in my career, I toured the world with my rock band. Outside of the three core band members, we had an ever-revolving cast of support musicians. We didn’t always do a great job of welcoming the new artists as a vital part of the team, and that hurt the trust among the group. I learned the value of bringing new team members into the huddle and making sure they feel included. I also fostered collaboration by asking multiple people to brainstorm solutions for our everyday challenges. Establishing trust begins with every team member knowing their input is valued and respected.
A THREE-HOUR TEAM-BUILDING SESSION WON’T REVERSE THE UNDERLYING CHALLENGES FOUND IN A WEAK COMPANY CULTURE. STRONG COMPANY CULTURES ARE BASED ON A FOUNDATION OF TRUST, AND BUILDING THAT ASSURANCE TAKES TIME.
With fear of sounding cheesy – there’s also a lot of love among my team. This doesn’t happen accidentally, we constantly foster it. Team members go well out of their way to support, encourage, console and cajole each other, make each other laugh, feel liked, feel appreciated, and I believe, feel loved. When you start looking out for others on your team, they’ll start looking out for you. That’s how you really build trust. And it’s how you build a company culture that stands the tests of time. My firm doesn’t tend to get requests to host team-building events at firms with poor company cultures, likely because those types of firms don’t invest in their employees. Our core clients are companies and associations who are already performing well, and understand that their teams are their greatest assets. Dedicating time to enhance communication, creativity and collaboration skills leads to a culture of innovation and a solid foundation of trust.
Andy Sharpe is founder of SongDiviUSA, a music-based, team-building, experience design and entertainment provider. With his extensive background in both music and business, Andy oversees and develops SongDi USA’s award-winning programs, splitting his time between the American, Asia Pacific and European teams. Originally from Australia, Andy is based in Las Vegas with his wife and daughter. Connect on LinkedIn.