Trust is the fuel that powers executive teams to perform.

At ENGAGE, we work with a multitude of senior leadership teams. Some have strong starts and create marginal gains; others struggle and need to make significant changes in order to succeed. However, our data shows that those with high trust levels are over 35% more effective in terms of long-term performance – and our work has uncovered one simple factor which is fundamental to creating trust within teams.

It revolves around how well teams know each other. It often amazes us how little the members of an ExCo or SLT know about each other as individuals – not just as professionals, but as human beings and genuine colleagues.

If you’re a senior executive, look around at your own team and peers. Do you know where they grew up? What their family life looks like, and what they do outside of work? What their greatest strengths are? Or do you just know what numbers they turned in last quarter?

When you’re part of a senior team, knowing people matters. And here’s why.

All our research among executive teams shows three things:

  1. Teams that know each other well have significantly higher levels of trust – 33% higher in fact.
  2. Equally, teams that have higher trust levels tend to have better levels of collaboration and stronger teamwork across silos.
  3. And, as a result, they outperform low-trust teams significantly.

It’s therefore vital to know each other well if you’re going to be effective as as a team and tackle tough challenges together. You might be facing a merger or integration, or undergoing an organisational transformation. Or it might just be that your team is forming for the first time or integrating new members into it. Whatever your current challenges, getting to know each other and building trust requires you to be intentional and proactive.

Here are some simple things we’ve found work really well when getting this process started:

Getting to know you drills

Often, teams form or evolve without members getting to know anything about each other. Two simple “drills” we’ve run with teams have helped:

  1.     Pen portraits / speed dating:

Simply getting team members to draw a small portrait of themselves can help others to understand them better. You can use simple frameworks to support this, such as a chart with some questions about each Exec as an individual. The chart can include 

questions about growing up, life/career history, home and family, interests outside of work, motivators, strengths, and ‘something nobody here knows…’.  This can be done in a group setting or a “speed-dating format”.

  1.     Telling life stories:

Asking each team member to tell a short (5-minute) life story can help bring people together. It encourages the storyteller to show some vulnerability, or demonstrate what’s helped to shape their character and outlook on life (personally and professionally). This can be very powerful and impactful on both the storyteller and colleagues alike.

Strength-finding exercises

A simple approach that can help teams build trust is through a facilitated strength-finding exercise. Each team member goes into the “spotlight” and receives simple inputs from each team member on what they see as the individual’s strengths. This helps teams become more open with each 

other and builds positive relationships through a strength-based focus.

Feedback practice

This can consist of individuals receiving two forms of feedback from each ExCo member. You can use prompts such as ‘What do you bring to ExCo that I see as a real plus?’ or ‘One thing I feel you could do differently to be even more effective as a team member is…’.  Again, this kind of exercise can begin to build trust and introduce the idea of giving open feedback as a habit.

If you want to see a 35% uplift in long-term team performance at a senior level, some of these basics are really going to matter. Knowing each other is the first step to building trust, and trust generates a whole range of productive outcomes. Remember that teams are nothing without trust – and executives will need to work proactively at building this authentically.

If you’d like to learn more about our team-coaching approach or you need some support with your senior leadership team, be sure to get in touch.