12th July 2019

Fast-tracking the Creation of Trust in Executive Teams

It’s no secret that trust is the foundation of high performing and aligned executive teams.  Here’s a proven way to fast-track the building of trust to help executive teams develop better connection and move towards deeper levels of engagement.

Of the countless number of executive teams we’ve worked with over the years in our consulting practice, there’s one thing we know for sure; we’ve never worked with a high performing and aligned team that doesn’t have a high level of trust among its members.  Sometimes this trust is built over years of familiarity, working together through good and bad times, forged in the trenches together and sharing in success.  If teams stay together and work through enough challenges, they seem to eventually find their right ‘level’ of trust.  If you subscribe to Maister et al’s famous Trust Equation (see below), then you realise that time and experience together will eventually develop a level of trust in executive relationships; if it doesn’t, it will often mean that relationships will have fractured before a deep level of trust has developed, because of a lack of reliability or an over-statement of self-orientation.

Trust = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy


But in most situations, executive teams don’t have the luxury of a multiple year timeframe to develop trust through extended experience.  With this in mind, we’ve developed and refined an approach that helps executive teams (or any other group of people who come together to achieve something significant) rapidly develop trust with each other.  The process is founded on the ‘Intimacy’ component of the Trust equation and gets at the common level of humanity that binds people together when they work with each other.

Who Am I?

We call it ‘Who Am I?’, and it should be one of the first things new teams do as they start working together.  Instead of the usual focus on rank, work history and functional expertise, we ask people to prepare a 5-10-minute presentation (no slides) on themselves as a person, to be delivered to the rest of the team.  Everyone on the team gets a chance to prepare ahead of time, and then deliver their story to each other, usually over the course of the first morning session of an engagement or workshop.  For some people, the thought of talking about themselves in an intimate way can be confronting; feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt arise.

To assist people, we give them some guidelines to get them thinking in their preparation, similar to these questions:

  1. What do you do in your life outside of work?
  2. During your early years, which people had the greatest impact on you?
  3. What experiences in your upbringing had a significant influence on you?
  4. What’s been the most challenging situation you’ve had to deal with in your life?
  5. Which individual has had the greatest positive influence on you as a person?
  6. Which people, events and experiences have had the longest standing impact on you?
  7. What’s been the biggest setback or disappointment in your life, and how have you handled that?
  8. How would you describe the phase of your life/career at present?

Patterns emerge

Once people get past that initial response, we see a usual pattern emerging.  Firstly, because everyone on the team is going to prepare and participate, there is no hiding; people take on the task and report to us that the preparation process in itself can be incredibly insightful, stimulating and at times, painful.  For most people in the process, they’ve not thought about these questions before, let alone raked over the details and put together a presentation or story on themselves.  But it is the process of investigating and understanding our past that helps us be clear on who we are today.

What we also see is that on the day of the workshop, some people who thought they’d have trouble talking for five minutes have to be reminded after 10 minutes that they’re still at 1995 in their life history!  It’s amazing how some people find the process cathartic, and actually become quite open and willing to lay some things bare that they previously felt were best kept hidden.  Within a normal level of self-censoring, most of us know where to draw the line on what to put out there.

We’ve also seen some people, after seeing their peers deliver a very revealing and forthright story, get up and say: ”I’m going to put away my prepared notes and tell you some things about me that I’ve never told people at work before”, and step into a level of vulnerability that they could not have imagined they were capable of.

The Outcome is always the same

The outcome of the ‘Who Am I?’ process is always the same. We see teammates learning about each other as real people and realising we’re all human, therefore imperfect; most of us have had our share of success, tragedy, setbacks and the like. We’re all sons or daughters, mum or dads, have worries and concerns and are mostly doing the best we can.  It’s often the down-to-earth and mundane aspects of our selves that draw us together and unite us as people.  Rather than looking across the table and seeing the slightly arrogant Marketing Director you disagree with, you begin to see the self-doubting parent, who had a challenging childhood and is seeking to make a distant parent proud.

At the end of these sessions, most participants remark on how much they now know about their teammates – even those who’ve worked together for multiple years come away with a new and deeper perspective on their peers, and the level of shared humanity starts opening the way for new levels of trust and opportunity within the team.

While not without some risks, the ‘Who Am I?’ process is our go-to approach for fast-tracking trust in teams. We’ve never had a team go through the process and not see the value in it, oftentimes feeling inspired, connected and ready to work together in new ways.  For the investment in some individual preparation time and a few hours together in the workshop, it’s the highest pay-off intervention we know of to get an authentic level of intimacy and trust developing in teams.

If you need help on developing trust within a group of people or team, then get in touch with us.

Glen Petersen

Glen Petersen

CEO at Generator Talent
With more than 35 years in business, working in large global businesses and consulting, Glen has a wise head set firmly on experienced shoulders – a good thing to have as Generator Talent’s founder and CEO. He is in demand by clients who value his pragmatic advice and ability to positively influence people and improve business outcomes.
Glen Petersen

Categories: Developing Talent

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