Talent, Teamwork & Trust

I like to watch many different types of team sports. I see many parallels with how the captains of the sports teams I follow lead their teams to success with how business managers can help their work teams to succeed. But I have to confess that cricket does not feature on my top ten list of sports to follow. It was, therefore, with interest that I found myself listening avidly to the recent debates over the non-appointment of highly talented cricketer Kevin Pietersen by the current Director of cricket, Andrew Strauss. It got me thinking … can highly talented individuals be good team players and what should leaders do in these situations?

Cricket is, without question, a highly competitive game where good team work is vital for success and Kevin Pietersen is, undoubtedly, a phenomenal cricketer. Pietersen’s record is exceptional - 8,181 runs and 23 centuries in 104 Tests. There are many examples in both sport and business where highly talented individuals are effective team members, so why was Pietersen not selected for the team?

The answer, it seems, was trust – or rather a lack of trust. Over the past months and years trust has eroded between Kevin Pietersen and the English Cricket Board. Pietersen, it was said, was arrogant and created tensions within the team and it was this that led to a lack of trust and ultimately the decision to not select him.

Trust is just as important in business teams. A team who needs to work with each other to achieve tough common objectives need to trust and respect each other if they are to perform well. Distrust increases tension and negative "on guard" behaviour of team members, which can erode the spirit of the team and ultimately affect team productivity.

The team leader’s role is to create an environment where this mutual trust and respect is fostered so that teamwork flourishes.

There are ten criteria that the team leader should focus on if they are to create a team that trusts each other. These criteria can be sub-divided into two categories: initial trust and deeper trust:

Initial trust can be more readily achieved and is necessary during the early stages of a team’s existence. The four relevant criteria for initial trust are: competence, openness, integrity, reciprocity.

Developing deeper trust takes more time to establish and requires continual effort from the leader and team members in every aspect of the team’s work. The relevant criteria to develop deeper trust are: compatibility, goodwill, predictability, well-being, inclusion and accessibility.

As a team leader you must constantly demonstrate these criteria yourself (i.e walk the walk) and team members need to be made aware when their actions and behaviour are adversely affecting the development of trust. These can be difficult conversations for team leaders to have, particularly if the “problem person” is also highly talented as there is often a fear of “upsetting” your super star. But unless these difficult conversations are had, and had early, then the ultimate success of the team is in real danger. Leadership training ensures team leaders know when and how to have these difficult conversations and so helps them become effective people managers.