The 4-core attributes of successful partnerships: Trust, Empathy, Action, Measurement
I am often asked what are the core attributes of successful partnerships and transformational teams. Over the years I have come to rely on using the word TEAM as an acronym for describing the core elements of team success:
I typically group these as Trust + Empathy. Then Action + Measurement. Much like a two layered cake, the first layer should be a bit wider and ideally a bit stronger, before you add in the next layer. Or like a math equation, the order of operations is critical for solving the problem.
If we really think about it, very few of us do impactful, long lasting work, alone. The nature of modern work is often highly matrixed, dependent, complex, and varied. We work with others to drive impacts greater than the sum of our parts. That is not to say we can’t make impact as individuals. But in most work environments its an interdependent work efforts that drives results and lasting impact.
This is also one of the most rewarding parts of work. Sharing in success and real change together.
But do we dare to start a meeting by asking if people in the room or on the team truly trust us? Do we dare ask — are you here to help or watch the work? Do we express our own anxieties and concerns openly? Do we bring our whole selves, warts and all. Do we dare to be truly open “Sorry gang I have a lot going on at home and I may not be my best today?” Would we dare to do this?
Throughout my career, I have been involved in countless virtual teams, extended teams, transformational teams, project teams, winning teams, losing teams, competitive teams, agile teams, six-sigma teams, sales teams, marketing teams, business development teams, deal teams, acquisition teams, integration teams, divestiture teams, event teams, collaboration teams, and so on.
So yeah, a lot of teams.
In my experience, impactful teams tend to be most successful when they have a strong foundation around these four core elements.
- Trust —The single most important element in establishing the success or failure of a shared effort. The fundamental belief that every member of the team has the best interests of the team, the goal the companies involved at heart. I believe you. I believe in you. I believe you have the best interests of the project/partnership in your heart. I believe you trust me. I believe we can be more successful together than alone. I understand what success looks like for you in this project; and you understand what success looks like for me. We agree to succeed or fail together.
- Empathy — Respecting one another is at the core of appreciating one another's differences. Truly internalizing and recognizing the unique qualifies of each individual are paramount to communication, role clarity, and decision making. Everyone has something unique and special to contribute. The old adage “Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you can’t see,” engenders awareness and flexibility that accounts for the influences external to the business at hand.
- Action — in 1965 Bruce Tuckman famously developed his stages of group development, forming — storming — norming — performing. Its has become the time honored and proven way to think about the development of teams. Based on experience its often at driving specific actions and a bias for action (or lack therein) where teams sometimes begin to lose momentum or fragment. Action and accountability are intrinsically connected here. Being clear on not just the action, the owner, the date and the deliverable. Clear is Kind. My good friend Vetina emphasizes its not enough to know who is in the team or project, but distinguishing between who is a player on the field versus someone sitting in the stands eating popcorn and commentating.
- Measurement — Too often, we spend so much time on the end goals, we forget to focus on what Scott Belsky calls “the messy middle.” This requires very clear scope, sizing and clarity on timebound measures. My mentor Bob has a phrase I love when asking about projects, “is it bigger than a breadbox or smaller than a garage and can you describe the dimensions.” Without meaningful interim scope and goals, dates, KPIs, metrics, its easy for teams to lose sight of the path to the long term goal. Scorecards or KPI dashboards are great ways to keep this in perspective. But sometimes the numerical representation isn’t sufficient to show the progress; especially in the early stages of team building. Specific methods and decision deltas may vary, but the intent remains the same — track, monitor, and course correct across mid-project milestones. “Did we meet with Bob by Tuesday the 12th.’Did Sally complete the financial modeling by October 3rd. ‘Did we have the event in Chicago in March as planned.”
Brene Brown is famous for the adage “Clear is Kind” which I truly love and forms the basis for successful communications. The corollary is an ambiguity is a sort of unkindness. Thus, a part of your team calculus should also include true precision on your social-contract of trust as well as true clarity on goals, objectives, measurement, timeline, gates, and a protocol for remediating conflict.
So the next time you kick off a new team project avoid jumping right into work itself. Take the time to talk about how to earn people’s trust. Take time to talk really understand where each team member is going and what they have on their plates, at work, and at home if they are comfortable sharing. Take time to discuss “how” you will handle conflict and remediate issues.