5 Steps to Building an Unshakable Team

by Erica Quam

1.  Begin with trust

People have to trust each other first.  Not just trust that they know what another person will do or how they will react in a certain situation.  There has to be an element of vulnerability.  People have to get comfortable with telling their teammates, "I screwed up." "I'm not going to be able to do that." "I actually need some help." This kind of trust is authentic, open, and honest.

How do you get there?  
Partner up to get people talking and learning things about one another.  Examples:

  • What is something people may not know about you that is important to know?
  • Share 3 things about your family: brothers, sisters, mom, dad, grandparents.

Important: Have one person talk, the other person ONLY listens.  Then switch roles.  Many times people don't really listen because they are trying to think of how they can add to the conversation.  

2.  Engage in conflict

How do you get there?
Talk about the continuum of conflict.  On one side there is total agreement on the opposite side is complete destructive conflict.  Have discussions where people move closer to the very center - sharing ideas and opinions without crossing over that line to destructive conflict.

Important: Set some ground rules.  Make sure all sides are heard.  Make the conflict about an idea instead of a person.  Allow for a time-out to be called: when and if things cross over the line.  It may get uncomfortable.  It should!

3.  Make a commitment

The commitment is the buy-in.  People need to be willing to give up some of their individual goals for the good of the team.  Once they have engaged in conflict, and everyone has shared their opinions, then they are usually be more willing to be on board with things and ready to make a commitment.  If there hasn't been any conflict and people aren't being real or trusting one another then it's really hard to make a commitment.

How do you get there?  
You sometimes have to work backwards: Find out about the underlying conflicts that people are avoiding.  Find out why people don't trust enough to engage in this conflict.

4.  Hold each other accountable

Once a commitment has been made, then the next step is holding people accountable.  This step can be the most challenging - usually because teams haven't built enough trust, have avoided conflict, and haven't really made a commitment.  If people have become cynical and just said yes - when they really aren't - they won't hold each other accountable.  Why should they?

How do you get there?
Define accountability.  Give them the language to hold each other accountable.  Divide up into groups and give scenarios (or have them come up with their own).  Ask how they would specifically hold each other accountable in those different situations.  Make it real. 
Important: Point out that people may have different ways of holding each other accountable - depending on their style.

5.  Get results

If teams have engaged in the first four steps then the results will come.  Some teams can skip steps and get results; however, the results are usually short term and not long-lasting.  For a team to remain strong throughout the ups and downs of the season and still get great results at the end, they need to build a foundation.

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