It Starts With Trust

Everyone around the table looked at each other. There was silence in the room. This was the third time they had met off site as a team to do their strategic planning. The facilitator had just asked how they had done on their five goals for the quarter. No one, including the CEO, was willing to own up until Don, one of the young up and coming members of the leadership team, said “we sucked—we didn’t make one of our five goals.”

High performing teams need to be able to call each other on their bullshit. Only when a high level of trust is created among the team members is there a chance for everyone to hold each member accountable. It also requires yearly and quarterly goals that are measurable and unambiguous—no wriggle room allowed.

Weekly Pulse Point

So much happens in a week that I believe senior management teams (whether for profit or non-profit) must meet weekly. The goal of the weekly meeting is two-fold:

  1. To have an honest debate of the issues at hand—no status updates. The most expensive and smartest people in the organization are in the room to figure out what’s happening next for the following seven days. That takes discussion.
  2. Decide on Who, What, and When. You have to write this down, review it each meeting, and hold people accountable for doing what they said they would do.


As fellow Lead Change Group Instigator Chris Edmonds would say, “every organization has a culture.” We get into trouble when:

  1. The culture does not serve the organization well.
  2. It is not written down.
  3. People don’t hold each other accountable for living the culture each and every day.

A powerful way to hold people accountable and to build trust, is to make sure that at every weekly management meeting, at least one story from the previous week is shared with everyone that demonstrates a person in your organization living one of your cultural values.

Creating Trust

Culture and trust can feel like “soft” issues. You know, the ones that we don’t worry about. There is nothing soft about defining and living core values. Trust is the bedrock from which everything else is built. No softness there.

Trust is built over time by people sharing and being increasingly vulnerable with each other. You have to spend unstructured time together getting to know one another outside of work. Discuss what is important in each other’s lives, who your family is, what is going on in your life outside of work, and over time build the myriad of connection points that let you trust each other.

Every time you add a new team member, you must start this process over. Each member of the existing team must build connection points with the new team member, until you trust them and the new team number trusts the rest of the team. Does this take time? Heck yes and it is worth it, since without trust, you cannot lean into each other to overcome the inevitable obstacles that you will have to overcome together.

Being Accountable

Many leaders, especially entrepreneurs, don’t think they have to be accountable. They can have an attitude of entitlement thinking that because they are the boss/founder/leader, it is up to everyone else to be accountable, but not them. Your team will never reach their potential, individually or as a group, unless you are willing to be equally accountable as them.

Which all starts with trust.