Trust me…it’s important!

By Barrett Keene

The state officers who were fortunate enough to attend the National Leadership Conference for State Officers were exposed to a wonderful resource: Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. This book is used in organizations worldwide to build strong teams. The five dysfunctions are interdependent, and vulnerability to one dysfunction could be potentially lethal to the group’s ability to grow into a cohesive team. Let’s take a moment to review the five dysfunctions and dive a little deeper into the foundational piece: Trust.

The first dysfunction is an absence of trust. Lencioni defines this dysfunction as an unwillingness to be vulnerable to other team members. When chapter officers choose to be open about mistakes and weaknesses, the team can be completely focused on the task at hand instead of being occupied by attempts to look good individually.

The second dysfunction is fear of conflict. When officer teams lack trust, they are often severely limited in their ability to engage in the challenging discussions that are inherent in the work of leadership. Instead, sarcasm and defensiveness fill the void. It’s what the late leadership expert Bernard Bass referred to as laissez-faire leadership. In other words, acting selfish and not stepping up to do what needs to be done while frustrations and ineffectiveness run wild! Business consultant Mary Case reminds her clients, “No pressure, no diamonds.” Don’t be the idiot who always creates conflict, but don’t be the sissy who will not address it either!

The third dysfunction is lack of commitment. When chapter officer teams cannot respectfully discuss their preferences and concerns, team members are less likely to buy in and commit once the decision is reached. Apathy creeps in and replaces the passion and commitment to serve FFA members. The difference between interested and committed officers is that interested individuals take care of business when the circumstances are right. Being committed means we get the job done with no excuses.

When people are not committed to the plan, the team or the relationship, they are more likely to slip into the fourth dysfunction of teams, which is avoidance of accountability. When chapter officers are not receptive to accountability in their own lives, they will be less likely to step up to the daunting task of lovingly holding teammates accountable. Purposeful and effective accountability is essential to leader and team development. In my own life, I meet with two guys each week that know my values, my hopes and my faith. They consciously seek to affirm and encourage me, but I also expect them to say what needs to be said to help me become the man and the leader I hope to become.

When chapter officers are not encouraged and held accountable by teammates, competing demands, laziness and selfishness get in the way and lead to the ultimate team dysfunction, inattention to results.

Absence of trust is the foundational dysfunction. Without trust, the figurative pyramid representing your team’s level of effectiveness is sure to crumble. According to leading trust experts, trust is when you are willing to be vulnerable to the actions of another person because you expect the other person to perform a particular action that is important to you, even when you do not have the ability to monitor or control the other person. When chapter officer teams are characterized by integrity, commitment, credibility and trust, there is no need to devote our time and attention to monitor and evaluate the behavior of others, or be worried about how our every word will be interpreted. Without trust, each teammate will attempt to protect their own interests, damaging themselves and the entire team.

However desirable and crucial trust may be, its purchase is neither easy nor guaranteed. The problem is that every person on your chapter team will do something that will create distrust. While trust leads to trust, mistrust certainly leads to mistrust. We tend to assume the worst intentions within people when we do not trust them. Also, while trust builds slowly over time, mistrust has a much more catastrophic quality. Consider this: How many lies must one tell before they are considered a liar? How many times must a person tell the truth after that point to lose that unfortunate label? What can you do as an advisor to help build trust? Over decades of rigorous research, three components of trust have consistently emerged: ability, goodwill and integrity. Use and develop your team’s abilities to do good work. Leaders can serve and genuinely affirm their teammates when they notice a group is doing something wonderful. Also have your team be careful to promise less and deliver more often. When you feel distrust is creeping in, say so. Finally, when you see someone falling short, try to convince them to own up to their mistakes and humbly seek forgiveness.