The Essential Ingredient for Teams to Perform at Their Peak

The Essential Ingredient for Teams to Perform at Their Peak

Sam Obitz – May 2017

What came to your mind first? Great leadership, cohesion, exceptional communication or perhaps respect for one another? Certainly, all of those components are required for a team to perform optimally, but none of those things are possible without TRUST.

Without a foundation of trust to build on, not one of your team’s accomplishments will ever be as great as they could be with it. Exceptional teams begin with this and build outward.

It all starts at the top of the organization, so the members of the team must first trust their leader. Any organization without trust in their leader will under perform (and often outright fail) regardless of the amount of skill and expertise on the team itself.

So, you may ask, how does a leader gain the trust of those on their team? There is more than one way to gain the trust of those around you. However, there are many factors that tend to be present in most situations where the leader has a high level of trust.

At the top of that list would be authenticity. You have to know who you are and what you stand for, or people will see right through you. In addition, you cannot preach one thing, do another, and expect people to fall for it for long. This is called ‘walking your talk’ and there is no quicker way to engender respect than living your life this way. I have seen instances where coaches or leaders have blinked just once, which led to their downfall as well as their team’s. As soon as you blink, you open the door for everyone else on your team to start cutting corners as well.

Also high on the list would be what I call heart or compassion. As the great coach John Wooden was fond of saying, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” People will go to the end of the Earth for you and each other when they feel valued and cared for.

Being consistent and fair is another key component in gaining the trust of others. People mistakenly think this means I believe leaders have to treat everyone on the team the same. What this means to me is that you treat everyone the way they deserve to be treated. Ideally, everything would be earned and all people would be held accountable for their actions. A subset of this would the necessity to be straight with everyone and not dance around things. People may not always like it when you tell them the truth, but they will gain your respect when you do and lose it quickly when you don’t. A side benefit of telling it like it is, is that it prevents further pain down the road.

Once the leader has established that he or she is trustworthy, the next step is getting the team members to trust each other. I’m going to hit on two key components here. The first is a shared vision for the team. It is imperative that everyone on the team strives to reach the same goal through an agreed upon process. Once team members know what their responsibilities are and how their task affects other members on the team, who are relying on them, bonds will begin to be forged.

The second component is the one that I believe separates the good from the truly exceptional, getting to know your teammates on a deeper human level. I cannot stress this enough! When you form bonds with people, you naturally view what is good about them through a magnifying glass and what’s bad about them through reverse binoculars (which has the effect of making things appear tiny). This causes team members to give each other the benefit of the doubt when things go poorly, the net effect of which is reduced or removed animosity among teammates. This results in more energy and focus for the team to put towards its shared goals.

Once you develop a foundation of trust, you will be able to be a better leader, develop cohesion, and have exceptional communication and respect for one another. It will also make all other things you want to do easier to accomplish as well.

Remember, ‘It takes time to build trust, mere seconds to break it, and forever to repair it.”

Why the Best Leaders Don’t Have Favorites

22 Feb 2013 – By Stefani Yorges –


Growing up, I was the “teacher’s pet” my fair share of times. So I know how it feels to be favored. I also know how it feels to have a supervisor dislike me.

Fresh out of graduate school, I arrived at the university for my first year of teaching psychology. I had barely settled in to my office when I sensed the disdain of the Chairperson of my department. But he barely knew me! He certainly knew little about my work, my interests, or my ability to connect with students in the classroom. Yet it was undeniable. I was getting the worst assignments, classroom locations, and teaching schedules.

A colleague also pulled me aside and pointed out that I was not getting access to many of the resources typically provided to junior faculty (grants, release time for research, etc.). What was going on here? I wondered, “What did I do wrong?”

As difficult as academic jobs are to find, I started to look around. Fortunately, he moved out of the position so I didn’t have to.

Leadership researchers have actually studied this phenomenon for years. They have found that leaders interact differently with each of their subordinates; they don’t treat them all the same.

The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory focuses on the quality of that “exchange” relationship. Research confirms that leaders place subordinates into the ‘in group’ or the ‘out group’ very early and on the basis of surprisingly little information. Sometimes the choice is simply made based on similarity to personal characteristics – appearance, age, gender, and so forth. The decision is typically made within the first five days. And once you’ve been assigned, it’s nearly impossible to change.

  • The in-group clearly consists of the favorites. Observations in the workplace indicate that supervisors show special attention to this group. They talk to them more frequently (and about more personal topics), they are more concerned with their progress, and they place more trust in them. This group gets more mentoring and more privileges. They also get higher performance ratings.
  • The out-group gets far less attention, fewer favors, and less interaction in general. When leaders do communicate with members in this group, it is with a more directive and authoritative manner. Results suggest that these individuals end up less satisfied with their jobs and more likely to quit. This is unfortunate.

As a leader, your goal should be to have a high-quality relationship with every individual. Observe your own behavior – does it fit the patterns described above? If you’ve been playing favorites, try to resist this tendency. Strive to manage each exchange relationship so that no one is “out.”

It’s natural to give more attention to those that you feel connected with, as well as those who seem to put in extra effort. There will always be those who don’t relate well with others or perform to your standards. But don’t let that become an excuse to neglect them or ignore their development.

Ideally, as a positive leader and role model, you give everyone a chance to improve. You need them and they need you. You’re all playing for the same team after all. The goal is that by the time you leave that role, everyone is better off for having worked under your supervision.