On another forum where I answer questions about teams, leadership and high performance, someone wrote in with this question: What is the single most important aspect in creating and managing a high performing team? Most of us know by now the most important element in a high performing team comes down to trust. Google’s study (Project Aristotle) and other studies have corroborated this with data. What I believe is important to know about that, is how do we create trust in a team? What is so important about that?

Imagine you have been assigned a new team for a high-visibility project that your organization is truly counting on in order to spin some other products off from the success of that project. None of you know each other well, each having come from other locations and chosen because of your individual areas of expertise. What questions would you have in mind as you met these people who you would spend 45 to 50 hours a week with for the next 3 months?

What You Want to Know About Your New Team 

Here are a few that might come to mind:

  • What are these people like to work with?
  • How will we make decisions and structure this project?
  • Who will I be able to partner with?
  • How will we measure success?
  • How will we benchmark accountability?
  • What is this going to do for my visibility?
  • What is the impact on my promotability?

There is a lot, simply in relationship terms, to wrap one’s mind around. Having a positive framework based on natural talents and strengths helps everyone understand themselves and each other better from the beginning. Using an instrument like Strengthsfinder2.0 from Gallup gives the team a place to begin that process of understanding how each person operates, how they think, how they see the world through the lens of their own strengths.

Others Don’t See What We See

We think others must see what we are seeing, but most of us forget that we see through the lens of our strengths and our own worldview, which means we may all be seeing things quite differently, depending on those variables. Many misunderstandings come from making that erroneous assumption.

Having some time at the beginning of a new team formation to look at each other’s talent themes and talking through how they approach their work is crucial to having a trusting environment and smoothly operating group. The upfront time is a worthy investment that will pay great dividends in the following weeks and months.

It is helpful to know, for example, that David has four Strategic Thinking strengths in his top 5, which means he looks for relevant patterns and ways to proceed using a mental blueprint naturally. He will want to have certain information that helps him use this strength in order to deliver his best.

Angie, the team lead, may have several influencing strengths in her top 10, which all color the way she processes information and what she deems most important in terms of prioritizing tasks.

Prabu may have arrived in a new culture, which is adds an additional layer of learning for both him and the other team members in order to understand the cultural expectations and differences in addition to understanding his natural talents and where his contributions will make the most advantage.

Agreeing on Top Team Values

The first piece of business in a newly forming team is for them to agree on their top values in service of the purpose they are united behind. They might ask:

  • How do we want to be together—what are our most important values as a team
  • What does each of us bring to this group and what do we need to bring our very best?
  • Might we agree to assume positive intent, reframe from judging each other and simply get curious when we don’t understand something

This becomes a foundation that the team can then stand upon, which gives them a sense of trust and stability with each other. It cannot be skipped. It cannot be rushed. The payoff for investing in this kind of team connection and clarity is immeasurably beneficial. Trust will be in the space. People will feel supported by their peers, which makes them willing to be experimental, to think aloud with each other and risk failure.

Everything we accomplish happens in the context of relationship. When we learn to come together and invest time in learning about each other in the service of our shared purpose, we get greater performance and our engagement and satisfaction climb ever higher.

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