Originally published August 10, 2010
Note from Maureen Clarry: My recent article Dysfunctional Business Intelligence Teams discussed the high-level applicability of Patrick Lencioni’s (2002) The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to business intelligence (BI) teams. For the next five months, I’ve invited experts from our Knowledge Network to take a deeper look at each dysfunction in a series of separate articles. This month, James Wood will explore the first dysfunction – the lack of trust.
Developing a comprehensive operational definition of trust is challenging in itself. The term trust has been cited in history as far back as the 13th century Middle English, but it has etymological origins even earlier with regard to expressions of loyalty and faithfulness (Mollering, Bachmann, & Lee, 2004). The concept of trust has been studied in a variety of academic fields, including the disciplines of psychology, sociology, economics, and business. While researchers in those disparate fields assessed trust from slightly different contextual angles, general similarities arise in the context of our review. For the purpose of this article, we will review the concept of trust as it relates to trust among BI project teams and interpersonal trust from a vulnerability perspective.
The research literature underscores the importance of trust in a healthy organization. For example, trust has been correlated to positive worker productivity and morale (Willemyns, Gallois & Callan, 2003). From practical experience and our research, project team members trust leadership to estimate project schedules, costs, and risks more accurately than those that have lower levels of organizational trust (Wood, 2006). Clearly, the responsibility for fostering a trusting team environment is squarely on the shoulders of the leader. That said, what tangible action must a leader perform in order to build and maintain a culture of trust in BI teams?
In his immensely successful book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey (2006) argues that the burden for establishing trust in an organization lies with the leader. The leader must, in Covey’s assessment, embrace the tenets of personal integrity, positive intent, capabilities aligned with the position, and a demonstrated track history of successful results. From a personal character perspective, Covey argues that the leader must continually embrace and behave with character in mind – tell the truth, “walk the talk,” right wrongs – as well as lead in a transparent manner, not talking behind the backs of other, and act in a respectful manner. Furthermore, leaders must constantly build their leadership competencies through continuous education and development, personal and professional growth, following through with commitments and delivering results. Leaders must practice effective interpersonal strategies such that they deeply and respectfully listen to their followers. Finally, leaders must demonstrate trust first – they must take the initial step to demonstrate that they are willing to extend the trust needed for a healthy team environment.
While the leader holds the burden for changing the trust level inside the team, clearly the need for trust can be seen in the effective interpersonal interactions – both between team members and supervisors, as well as between the team members themselves. In his work The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni argues that healthy trust, from a team perspective, originates with each member’s level of perceived vulnerability in relation to both their peers and their team leader. The challenge, of course, is establishing such a vulnerability-based working environment.
Lencioni recommends two foundational actions to establish a healthy level of vulnerability. First, take actions to understand the personality dynamics of each team member. Invest in a valid personality assessment – Myers-Briggs, Insights Discovery, etc. – as a starting point to understand the unique individual characteristics of all team members. A comprehensive readout, with all team members, of the nuances of each person’s personality preference establishes an understanding of the basis for team member actions. For example, knowing how markedly different an “introverted thinker” processes information and draws professional energy than an “extroverted feeler” allows each team member the ability to be vulnerable in acting in alignment with their personality preferences, while respecting the preferences of others.
With a deep understanding of individual team member personality traits in hand, Lencioni recommends a simplistic, yet strikingly effective exercise to further establish vulnerability among teams. Called the personal history exercise, the leader leads a group discussion whereby all individuals are asked questions related to their personal upbringing – where they were born, where they fall in the age hierarchy among their siblings, and what significant event in their childhood molded them into the adults they are today. Sound “touchy-feely?” Absolutely! Does it work? Absolutely! Team members quickly learn about the significant experiences of colleagues that they often do not know. With that information at hand, they begin to feel more comfortable – more vulnerable – in their actions. These two simple steps not only lay a basic foundation for vulnerability-based trust, but unmistakably send the message that the leader is serious about improving trust levels within the team.
In the final analysis, the leader must extend trust and model both vulnerability-based trust as well as modeling character and competency in all interactions with the team. As we all have learned, a leader is always “on stage” – we must personally commit to improving our own trust posture before expecting team members to improve theirs. The good news is that there are specific and effective actions that we can take to improve that posture and establish a healthy, trust-based work environment.