Inspired by the training we did at Propel last month diving into Lencioni's 5 dysfunctions of a team, I wrote a blog about what we see at Propel when there is a high trust environment within the team.
While “trust within the team” is a good place to start, an environment where there is real “trust beyond the team” will ensure decisions are made at the right level, fostering team accountability and engagement which in turn accelerates innovation.
Rather than thinking about what product teams need to do to earn the trust of stakeholders and executives, let’s instead flip it - and have a look at what we need from our leaders. What are the actions and behaviours that we need from executives to build a culture of trust?
OUR ASK OF EXECS: DO THIS
Provide the strategic context: In order to make the right decisions and trade offs day to day, the team needs to understand where they are heading. What’s the “big picture” for the company, what are the goals and long term objectives? Transparency should be a two way street and as much as possible the exec should provide it. This builds trust and a greater sense of connection to the broader business goals.
As Marty Cagan says in his recent article, it also means better decisions..
“But teams can only make good decisions when they are provided the necessary strategic context. So, it’s critical for executives to share the broader context – the business strategy, financial parameters, regulatory developments, industry trends, and strategic partnerships.”
Communicate commitments: So you’ve told the market something, made a promise to a key client? The team needs to know this! Even better, involve the team before the promise is made and explain the “why”. There is almost always a way to deliver value within constraints, but coming up with how to do this is dependent on understanding what the actual problem to solve is, and what has been communicated.
Turn up to discovery playbacks and showcases: Exec diaries are generally pretty full, but taking the time to provide feedback early and be present in product demos is really powerful. Demonstrating genuine interest and appreciation for your teams' work sends a strong message that says, "We value you, and we're invested in your success." This visibility and engagement are trust-building gold.
OUR ASK OF EXECS: BE THIS
Open to challenge: An environment of trust is one where everyone feels comfortable challenging ideas and offering different perspectives. Embracing diverse viewpoints promotes critical thinking, innovation and fosters trust. Executives should actively seek out and listen to these alternative ideas, showing that they value forthright honesty and are open to changing their mind.
Listen to the bad news: Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a whole heap of effort, money and resources are invested but the outcome won’t be achieved. Sharing the bad news takes bravery, so don’t shoot the messenger. In fact don’t shoot anyone, start by believing what you are being told. Many of the execs I’ve worked with are optimists and I’ve experienced a response that immediately moves to reframing the message more positively or assuming that the team is being pessimistic.
Don’t do that, believe, understand then ask what the team needs.
Focused and consistent: Consistency when it comes to how decisions are made is the name of the game when it comes to building trust. The team need to see that executives are focused on the vision, objectives and company values in all the decisions that are made - or when that is not possible, it's explained. A business strategy that changes too often or is not focused on a clear outcome is impossible to deliver and asking the teams to do everything all at once breeds uncertainty and erodes trust.
Finally, a personal reflection on what has worked for me in terms of fostering trusted relationships with my team, peers and leaders - do what you say you will do and remember David Maister's trust equation. Trustworthiness = credibility + reliability + intimacy / self orientation.