Business Insider: High-performance teams build trust

March 19, 2020 -  By
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Phil Harwood

High-performing companies in our industry are quietly growing organically by attracting the best talent and doing targeted acquisitions. They are building amazing facilities that inspire creativity and promote employee engagement. They are generating consistent profit, well above industry averages, by utilizing business management systems. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

In my consulting work and leading peer groups, I often have the opportunity to visit these industry-leading companies, and I’m always blown away by how far ahead of the rest of the industry they are. How did they get there, and what might the rest of the industry learn from them? That’s the question I’m often asking myself, and it’s the question I plan to answer in a series of articles, of which this article is the first.

A quote from one of my favorite authors, Patrick Lencioni, comes to mind. The opening statement of his groundbreaking book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” is: “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

High-performing companies are comprised of great teams producing great results. This should not be a surprise to any of us, but it is a serious challenge. How do we create great teams? That’s the real question.

The problem is that teamwork is elusive. We are imperfect people, and teams are dysfunctional by default. It requires enormous effort to root out dysfunction and replace it with cohesiveness and unity, so we can focus on achieving something great. This is why most companies struggle while only a handful seem to “have it all figured out.” Dysfunctional teams are doomed to mediocrity or failure.

Dysfunctional teams are full of hidden agendas, backstabbing, throwing people under the bus, blaming others, not stepping up to the plate, conflicting goals, bad meetings, nasty emails, lack of commitment, lack of focus or energy, wasted time and effort, going through the motions, chasing fads and more.

Where to start?

So, how do we begin to create high-performing teams? Change starts at the top, so the best place to start is with your leadership team — the highest-level team in your company, comprised of senior management. A leadership team of five to seven is best.

A company’s leadership team needs to be the most cohesive team in the company, not only because of the nature of their responsibilities, but to set an example for the rest of the company. In order to do so, this team needs to build trust.

Building trust is extremely elusive, especially without the correct understanding of how to approach it. Most of us view trust as something that is earned over time, easily broken and almost impossible to restore. Patrick Lencioni refers to this type of trust as “evidence-based trust.” The basic concept is that trust is earned by actions we take. Once it is lost, it is very difficult or impossible to reestablish. There is a place for this type of trust but not on a leadership team that’s trying to accomplish great things.

A different type of trust is “vulnerability-based trust.” This type of trust says, “I choose to trust you even though you may not deserve it.” It is filled with hope, positivity and expectation for something great to occur. It opens the door to higher levels of performance.

To develop this second type of trust, teams need to spend time together and really get to know one another. If you’ve ever been through something difficult with a group of people, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the “Band of Brothers” effect, resulting from being “in the trenches” with others. It is the most critical element of building a cohesive team.

From a practical standpoint, what can you do to develop this camaraderie? There are several things. Commit to weekly leadership team meetings and seek out resources to help this meeting be great. Schedule quarterly off-site meetings for deep dives into strategy, problem-solving and team-building. Get to know each other by utilizing assessment tools such as Everything DiSC and CliftonStrengths. Take time out to have fun and to get to know one another outside of work. All of these are tactical steps that every great leadership team takes.

Take a moment to assess the condition of your leadership team. Challenge your team to implement the steps listed in the previous paragraph. Read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” as a group assignment. Contact me if you have questions.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in Business, Expert Insights, March 2020

About the Author:

Phil Harwood is a Senior Advisor with Tamarisk Business Advisors. Contact him at

1 Comment on "Business Insider: High-performance teams build trust"

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  1. Joe Frisbie says:

    The paragraph on the actions within dysfunctional teams hit a cord. While on a personal level this pandemic is devastating for the business this is a golden opportunity. This pause is a time for the business community to reassess what is truly important, your people.  
    “Dysfunctional teams are full of hidden agendas, backstabbing, throwing people under the bus, blaming others, not stepping up to the plate, conflicting goals, bad meetings, nasty emails, lack of commitment, lack of focus or energy, wasted time and effort, going through the motions, chasing fads and more.”
    Does this occur just among dysfunctional teams? What does the third level design engineer think about the sales and marketing team? What is the janitor or maintenance mechanic on the 3rd shift saying? 
    Most companies say their people are their greatest asset but when you look beyond the C-suite or the corporate campus is it true? Some of the biggest offenders are the maintenance industry, retail, the food industry, and e-commerce. Some experts state that up to 75% of America’s live paycheck to paycheck. Are their skills and talents really that minimal? 
    Disney World recently furloughed 43,000 workers. Why aren’t the executives, who have the greatest discretionary cushion and the largest savings accounts, at least take a token if not real pay cut?
    Where in your industry does that occur? Is it internal, with vendors or partners? How are they taking care of their and by extension your employees? Are we good stewards of the community or the environment?
    Are we our brother’s keeper?