“The essence of trust is not in its bind, but in its bond” – Unknown
Perhaps one of the most fundamental factors for a successful cross functional team is the building of trust across the group. Many such teams are made up of people from varied roles, departments, and often cultures – it is no surprise that there will be different perspectives, working styles, goals and personalities, all of which can fuel the obvious question – “Who are you and what do you offer the team?”
In any team different styles and perspectives can create tensions and it is often exaggerated in cross functional teams where there are different reporting lines and core responsibilities at play. It is critical that the team leader encourages and allows time for exercises that build understanding and trust. The popular Forrester/Drexler Team Performance™ Indicator identifies mutual regard, forthrightness and reliability as being the keys to success for trust building; without these you may have caution, mistrust and facade.
So how do you build trust in a cross functional team? Below are some ideas for team leaders to consider.
- Putting people at ease – At the first meeting, allow time up front for the group to chat in a relaxed environment. You might organise coffee half an hour before, meet in a coffee shop the day prior, have a casual dinner the night before. The environment should be as relaxed as possible and the team leader should introduce, mingle and facilitate a sense of inclusion. Whatever works for your situation, it is important that there is time to get to know each other outside of the meeting – small talk is a first step to feeling at ease with someone. Even if the team has worked together before, each project can benefit from this connection or reconnection before the work begins.
- Understanding backgrounds – Even if everyone on the team knows each other, there is enormous benefit in introducing what team members individually bring to the table. Sometimes we might think we know someone at work, yet we have no awareness of the skills they have or the experience they bring. Such an introduction can be done by simply going around the group at the first meeting and having them describe their working background. If more structure is needed (so one person doesn’t take up all the time!) write 3 questions on the whiteboard for people to answer. For example: Who are you representing on this team? What past experience can you bring to the discussions? What expertise should we be calling on you for? You can have the discussions around the table, break into pairs and have the pairs introduce each other when you regroup, ask for the information before hand and conduct a ‘who am I quiz’ during the meeting…however you do it, make time for valuing individual backgrounds.
- Developing team ‘norms’ – Right up front, it is ideal to agree as a team on certain operating principles. This can be done using an external facilitator (helps the team leader be part of the discussion) or the team leader can coordinate. Discuss what team norms are (e.g. how we operate, what’s important to us to make sure we are effective) and how they will be used (e.g. as our guiding principles that we will hold each other accountable to at each meeting). Show some heading prompts – meetings, problem solving, resolving tough issues, values, decision-making, communicating – and ask the team to think about what’s important to them when working in a group – either around these headings, or in other areas. A good question to ask is “What helps you contribute effectively and feel productive in a team?” Have each person write on post-it / sticky notes (one comment per sticky note) and put them on a whiteboard or flip chart. Group similar ideas and encourage discussion and expansion where required. Consolidate key points and capture for distribution – “We agree to… We will…” Common norms are: be on time for meetings, one person talking at a time, respond to emails within 48 hours, putting tough issues and disagreements on the table, be open and honest at all times, phones off in meetings! Because cross functional teams are diverse, the norms must reflect all views.
- Addressing difficult issues before they happen – Some teams will be working on projects where it is likely discussions will get heated or differences of opinion will occur. Identifying what the issues might be even before they arise is a good way to encourage honesty, understanding and appropriate conversation. This doesn’t mean that you will avoid conflict or tough discussions, but by acknowledging that they might occur it helps people be prepared. It also shows that the leader understands the project. A team leader might highlight that there are likely to be differences of opinion and encourage team members to share openly and honestly while respecting others may not agree; you could ask the team how they propose handling difficult issues or decision-making when there is a disconnect.
These are a few ideas to help build trust within a cross functional team. These types of activities will need to occur throughout the time working together – creating and then sustaining trust. If trust can be built early on, you will start the project in a productive way – it’s definitely worth spending the time on trust building.
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