Why Network Building Is Necessary for Employee Engagement

Group Of Happy Coworkers Discussing In Conference Room

Networking is one of the most frequently thrown around buzzwords of our time. We know it matters, but why?

I had the privilege of sitting through a keynote by J. Kelly Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network, last week. Hoey insightfully points out that at the core, networking is about building strong, genuine, and mutually beneficial relationships, which can transform careers, and she reveals innovative strategies to harness the power of our contacts. Evidently, it’s a skill that is critical to career success in the 21st century.

The importance of networking in career advancement is something that we’re increasingly talking about in recent years. What we talk about less, however, is the importance of networking in enhancing our experiences at work.

Specifically, I argue today that networking is necessary in order for us to stay engaged in our work.

Let’s start with the research. According to a 2016 report by the Society for Human Resource Management, strong relationships with coworkers was identified as one of the key conditions to job satisfaction. They argue:

Positive relationships with co-workers can foster a sense of loyalty, camaraderie, and moral support and engagement among staff. These bonds may boost overall results and productivity as employees are more likely to want to avoid disappointing their teammates and to remain a cohesive team, especially when faced with adversity. Creating a more pleasant working environment through relationships with co-workers can increase employee satisfaction.

Gallup, which is another organization who has spent decades and millions of dollars studying work engagement, identified having a “best friend at work” as one of the 12 key elements of employee engagement. And that’s because:

When you have a close friend at work, you feel a stronger connection to the company, and you’re more excited about coming into work every day. You attach yourself to the company’s purpose and collaborate better to create success for the business.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Business and Management also pointed out that employees’ relationships with co-workers and supervisors directly influences the extent to which they felt that their work was meaningful, and their sense of psychological safety – both of which have been identified as key drivers of team performance by Google.

The evidence supporting the idea that relationships are the key to work engagement are hard to ignore.

More importantly, though, relationships are a basic human need.

Just as plants need water, sunshine, and minerals to thrive, psychological research suggests that the satisfaction of the psychological need to be connected to others is essential for individuals’ growth and wellbeing.

So how do we enhance work engagement, support employee wellbeing, and create growth-oriented workplaces? The evidence all points in one direction – we have to build strong relationships.

A powerful way of achieving this objective is through team building. At Summit, our team building programs provide groups of all sizes an opportunity to connect with others, and begin building meaningful and supportive relationships that can significantly enhance their work experience.

At the core, our programs provide participants an opportunity to build and strengthen their networks through fun, engaging, and purposeful activities.

To end, I’ll go back to my original question – why does networking matter?

Here’s my answer: networking enhances connection, connection enhances engagement, and engagement enhances performance.

Original Article : http://www.summitteambuilding.com/network-building-necessary-employee-engagement

How Much Is Employee Disengagement Costing Your Company?

      Employee Disengagement

This morning, I read an article that shared Amazon’s strategy to get rid of its disengaged employees – pay them up to $5,000 to quit.

Although there are a host of reasons why Amazon offers, well, “The Offer” (yes, that’s its official name), one of its main objectives is to give incentive for disengaged employees to leave the company (and never come back). It makes sense, considering the decades of research that have concluded that people stay at their jobs for three reasons: (1) they have an emotional attachment to it, (2) they feel obligated to stay, and (3) it costs more to leave than to stay. To an extent, The Offer removes the third reason for staying among employees who have no emotional attachment or sense of obligation to the company.

But why is Amazon so willing to spend money on weeding out disengaged employees who are not committed to the company? Reading about The Offer left me wondering about, first, why companies are so willing to spend money on employee engagement issues, and second, what the financial implications of employee disengagement are. So I did some digging.

One of the most surprising things that I found was how prevalent the issue of employee disengagement was. In Gallop’s 2017 State of the Global Workforce report, which surveyed more than 70,000 employees from organizations in 155 countries, found that 85% of employees worldwide are either not engaged in their work, or actively disengaged.

Employees that are just disengaged are those that are “checked out”, and going through their workday without passion or energy. Those who are actively disengaged aren’t just unhappy at their job – they are busy acting out, by undermining fellow co-workers, lowering morale, and hurting productivity levels – these employees are the real dangers to organizations.

The financial impact that these employees have on organizations is quite alarming, to be honest. Globally, disengagement at work is costing approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity. Now I don’t mean to be dramatic, but let me repeat that number for you: Seven. Trillion. Dollars.

In the U.S., actively disengaged employees are costing the country $450-$550 billion each year. That’s almost $1700 for every American.

Gallup also presents a way of calculating the costs of disengaged employees here. In a nutshell, if you have 5,000 employees in your company, 860 of them are likely to be disengaged. If their median salary is $60,000 a year, each disengaged person will cost the company 34% of their salary, which adds up to $20, 400. In total, employee disengagement will cost the company $17.5 million a year.

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #4, Meaning & Impact

Wooden signpost

The final ingredients for high performing teams that Project Aristotle revealed are meaning and impact. Leaders of teams need to articulate a clear vision, and reinforce how each member’s work contributes to bringing the team closer to that vision.

On the surface, this sounds simple and straightforward. Let’s be honest, it’s nothing groundbreaking – the importance of meaning and impact to team effectiveness seems fairly intuitive. I mean, most organizations nowadays have mission statements. Meaning just seems to be another buzzword and lofty ideal in the corporate world.

As I’m sure you’re well aware of at this point, implementing these ideals in ‘real life’ is a whole other story. The importance of meaning in team effectiveness is obvious – but how do you actually foster a sense of meaning and purpose in teams from the real world?

A quick Google search reveals thousands of articles discussing how to develop meaning and purpose in teams (for example, this Harvard Business Review article). Most, however, just end up reiterating how important a purpose is in a team, and that you should “find it”. Finding the purpose as the leader, though, isn’t the hard part, in my opinion. To get the entire team to buy in and connect with it…that’s the real challenge.

So in preparing for this post, I set out to explore this exact problem – how can we not only find a team’s purpose, but also get the entire team to ‘buy in’ to it?

Before I dive deep into the question of how, though, I want to explore the why – why is making sure each team member feels a genuine sense of meaning and purpose so important? Teams have been operating fine without this connection to purpose for decades – why is it now the time to fix this?

Research over recent years have begun to empirically explore the importance of a sense of meaning in life. They have connected a sense of purpose to everything from life expectancy, to company financial performance, to job performance. It is becoming increasingly evident that this isn’t just an issue of enhancing team performance – a sense of purpose has implications in almost every aspect of an employee’s life.

Dan Pink discusses this at length in his book “Drive”. In his research he found that drive was predicated on three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Considering these stats, to not talk about purpose at work would be downright foolish.

Now let’s take a look at a company that took full advantage of sense of meaning to boost employee and team performance.

In Google’s case study of KPMG, the audit, tax, and advisory firm, it is clear that the management team at the firm clearly recognized the importance of purpose-driven work. This led to a top-down initiative to strengthen employees’ sense of meaning, and their emotional connection to the impact of their work. They collected 40,000 stories, which led to a new purpose statement, poster campaign, and this video.

Furthermore, they found that employees working in teams where leaders effectively communicated purpose scored 30-50% higher on retention, satisfaction, pride, and motivation than those who didn’t. The impact that a sense of purpose had on their employees was striking.

This brings us back to my original question. Now that it’s even clearer how powerful a sense of meaning can be, as evident at KPMG, it’s important to ask – how exactly did the leadership at KPMG communicate purpose in a way that got their teams to buy in?

They got good at telling stories.

Look again at their ‘We Shape History’ video and poster campaign. The key to having their purpose connect with employees was their ability to communicate a great story. To get your team to buy in to your purpose, you have to be a great storyteller.

And I don’t mean a fairytale about slaying dragons. I’m talking about a story that captures the significance and importance of the work of the team. One that illuminates how meaningful that work is, and how it can leave a lasting impact. This is the kind of story that inspires teams to perform at the highest level.

But how do you tell a story in a way that inspires a sense of purpose?

According to Andy Raskin, an industry expert in strategic storytelling, this launch announcement by Elon Musk epitomizes effective storytelling. Dissecting Musk’s pitch, Raskin identifies several elements of impactful stories. Based on Raskin’s analysis, I propose that these elements also apply to stories that are aimed at instilling a sense of purpose in teams.

I believe that stories that inspire purpose have 7 key elements. They identify:
1.The Problem – What is the enemy? What needs to change?
2.The Urgency – Why does the problem need to be addressed now? Why not later?
3.The Reason – Whose life does this problem affect? Why does this matter?
4.The Promised Land – What would it look like if this problem is solved? What is the ideal situation? What should we aim for?
5.The Obstacles – What’s getting in between us and our ideal vision? What’s in our way? What do we need to overcome?
6.The Strategy – What are we going to do to overcome the obstacles? What tools are we going to use? What’s our plan?
7.The Evidence – How do we know our strategy is going to work? Why should we trust the leader?

At the start of every team project, it is the responsibility of the leader to take the time to illuminate the purpose of the team, and why each member’s efforts are meaningful and impactful. By addressing the 7 key elements of PURPOSE presented above to your team, you set the stage for your team to buy into your vision, and to see their work as meaningful.

Skeptical about this strategy? Notice that I actually followed this model and addressed these 7 elements in this post. And hey, the fact that you’ve made it this far may be telling you something.

The point is, take the time to foster a sense of purpose in your team. It matters, as evident in Google’s case study of KPMG. Take advantage of storytelling as your greatest tool in this endeavor, and make sure you address the 7 key elements of PURPOSE when you do so.

At the end of the day, leaders are storytellers. And storytellers are the ones who hold the power to inspire purpose.

Teaching Teamwork: How Insights from Team Building Can Benefit Educators

Team Building for Educators

Is teaching a class that much different from leading a team?

A 2010 article in Psychology Today makes a good argument for the idea that teachers are really “leaders in disguise”. Leaders and teachers both have to be positive role models, inspire their followers/students, provide individualized consideration, and engage the minds and hearts of their followers/students.

Team building has increasingly become a key part of leadership. It seems that most leaders in corporate organizations are aware of, and believe in, the value of team building efforts.

But if teachers are truly “leaders in disguise”, why do we so rarely talk about the value of team building in the world of education?

The ability to work in teams has become increasingly valuable in the workforce over the past decade. In fact, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that top companies in the world are pushing towards team-centric models, thus, the ability to work in small, cohesive teams is becoming more valuable than ever before.

As educators who strive to prepare our students to succeed in the world of work in the future, it is now our responsibility to teach our students how to work effectively in teams. But how do we do that?

I believe that teachers should model team leadership.

When the class becomes a high performing team, students can experience first-hand what it feels like to be a part of successful team. When they’re given other opportunities to work in a team in the future, they’ll know what they should strive for. They’ll be prepared to recreate the successful team leadership they observed in their teacher.

This is no walk in the park, I know. But perhaps the insight that we’ve garnered studying work teams may help us in this endeavor.

One of the most important characteristics of high performing teams (as I discussed in previous blogs) is psychological safety. As in successful teams, students should feel like they’re safe to express their perspectives, share concerns, and ask questions. I recognize that realizing this ideal is not easy, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps individual relationships with students may be a good place to begin. As Amy Edmondson suggests, acknowledging your own fallibility, and modeling curiosity as the educator may help as well.

Another key component of team performance is structure and clarity. In an earlier post, I shared the power of establishing a ‘group agreement’ for ensuring teams have a unified vision, common values and norms, and clear individual expectations. This can be a powerful tool for educators to ensure that the classroom environment has structure and clarity as well.

Now there are many other teambuilding activities, strategies and insights out there that can be beneficial for educators as well. The important idea to hold on to, though, is this: leadership and team research is just as relevant and applicable to a teacher as it is for the head of a human resources department in a major corporation.

Having an opportunity to be a part of a classroom that functions like a high performing team will may just set students up for a lifetime of success in the workplace.

Casting for Team Performance

Casting for team performance

Each member of any team should be “casted” in a role that takes full advantage of their talents.

In my previous post, I talked the importance of having each team member know what’s expected of them and how that contributes to the team vision. But today, I ask another question – does what we expect of our team members align with their strengths?

The premise of Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s First, Break All The Rules is that the key to work engagement is whether the work aligns with the individual’s strengths and talents. The manager’s main role, therefore, is to focus on each employee’s unique strengths, and find ways to make it fit with their work.

The theory goes that you have far more potential within your strengths than your weaknesses. Often within organizations we complete employee reviews on a regular basis. Most often these reviews are designed to identify weaknesses and to help people “fix” them. However, you will have far more benefit from focusing on strengths than weaknesses.

In Summit’s Strengths Finder workshop we discuss the fact that in your areas of weakness, regardless of how much training and focus you place on them, you do not have a natural ability in this area and will only improve so much. We often say you want to focus on your areas of weakness just enough so that they are not a liability, but do not waste more time here.

It is in your areas of natural ability, your strengths, that you have the greatest potential for growth. This is a muscle that through exercise can become very strong.

Although Buckingham and Coffman don’t explicitly talk about teams frequently in their book, this idea has huge implications for teams.

When leading a team, it’s not enough to just make sure they know what’s expected of them. The leader needs to tailor his/her expectations of each employee to their individual strengths and talents. They need to cast each member of the team in roles that fit them.

The first step for any leader, therefore, should always be to identify each employee’s strengths. This will require you to be deliberate and observant – according to Buckingham and Coffman, the surest way to identify someone’s talent is to watch his or her behaviour over time.

Then, you’ll have to step back and consider who’s in a role within a team that takes full advantage of their talents, and who is simply miscast. With this information, it is then the leader’s responsibility to move the team member into a role that better fits their strengths.

When each team member is in a team role with expectations that align with their talents, the full potential of the team can be unleashed.

Casting is everything.


Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #3, Structure and Clarity


Everyday at work, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘tunnel vision’. We go in, check off our to-do list, then check out and go home. But how clear is our understanding of what’s really expected of us at our jobs, and how that impacts our team and company?

According to Google, the third ingredient of high performing teams is structure and clarity. Team members need to have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them as part of the team, how they can fulfill those expectations, and the consequences of fulfilling those expectations.

The leader’s job, therefore, is to make sure that they establish clear expectations for all members of their team, and to bring to light how each person’s work on the team can contribute its mission. Without it, it’s unlikely that your team will reach high performance and engagement.

As Summit President Scott Kress always says, “you cannot expect anybody to live up to your expectations if they do not know what those expectations are”.

But let’s be honest, the reality of today’s workplace is that we often just don’t have enough time to get to that. Given the limitation of time and resources, how can we efficiently establish clear expectations for each member of our team and show them how it connects to the mission?

Here’s an idea…

One component of adventure education programs is called the group agreement. At the start of every program, the facilitator takes time to discuss with the group its goals (i.e., its ‘vision), and what the team will do to achieve those goals together.

Specifically, two aspects that should be addressed are the team values that are expected from everybody, and specific, unique expectations from each individual that will bring the team closer to its goals.

Here’s what one might look like:


At the top, the team can record its goals, objectives, and vision. Have the team discuss what it hopes to achieve, and make sure that the vision, or mission, is compelling and exciting for the entire team.

Then, have the team discuss the norms that are expected from everyone. In other words, what are some principles, values, or character traits that all members should strive for? This is where you can potentially discuss these key characteristics of top teams that Google discovered in their study (e.g., psychological safety, dependability, etc.). These can be recorded on the left arrow of the mountain towards the summit, emphasizing how important these norms are for taking the team closer to its vision.

On the other side of the mountain, discuss how the efforts of each member of the team can bring it closer to its goals. Write down what’s uniquely expected of each member, and make sure each individual knows why fulfilling those expectations are consequential for taking the team towards the summit (i.e., it’s vision).

Of course, this is just one way of doing it. But the point is, by using this simple, efficient, and engaging strategy, you can open up a productive discussion about goals, norms, and expectations. In addition, you end up with a physical group contract that you can keep and refer back to when you face various challenges.

More important, this tool gives us structure and clarity, which Google tells us is absolutely critical to team performance.

Learning In Thin Air: The Power of Storytelling

Scott Kress on the summit of Everest

Scott Kress’ Learning In Thin Air keynote leverages the power of storytelling to change the way his audiences’ think about leadership and teamwork. Here’s how he does it.

But first, let’s take a look at why storytelling can be one of the most powerful tools that a leader can have. Andy Raskin, a strategic storytelling expert who has worked with major corporations including Uber and Intel, says that any leader who achieves anything does so by telling a great, credible story. Dianne Booher, an expert in leadership communications, argues that stories carry emotion that connect with people, and drives ideas deeper into our psyches. Paul Smith, author and consumer research expert, suggests that stories inspire organizations, sets visions, teach important lessons, and defines cultures and values.

Stories entertain, educate, and inspire. This is certainly true of Learning In Thin Air.

Scott Kress is one of the handful of Canadians that have climbed the Seven Summits – the highest peaks of each of the seven continents, including Mount Everest. In his keynote speech, he shares numerous stories based on his climbing experiences to capture the essence of high performance leaders and teams.

He begins by sharing an experience of failure – his 2001 climb of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mount in the world. Led by an ineffective leader, his team ended up becoming stuck in the ‘storming’ phase of group development, and was unable to summit the mountain. Like any good storyteller, Scott shares the reason why the climb wasn’t successful – and what that tells us about teams.

Guided by a leader who subscribed to an ‘old school’ model of leadership predicated upon power, fear, and intimidation, the team ended up with a fractured vision, lack of trust and communication, autonomous action, and lack of reflection. This tells us the importance of trust, communication, and accountability in high performing teams. At the core, relationships matter.

Scott then shares what can happen when all of these elements are present in a team. In his 2008 Everest climb, he faced a 10% chance of success, and the fact that close to 300 people have died while trying to climb Everest. Furthermore, even if he did summit the mountain, he faced some terrifying odds on his way back – close to 80% of fatalities occur after summit success. Surprisingly, these statistics seem to mirror the research on teams that Scott presents – only 15% of teams reach high performance.

Although Scott and his team faced a number of barriers on the climb, they managed to successfully summit Everest. He explains they achieved success this time around because his team was built on solid relationships, clear vision, successful communication, and accountability. Evidently, if these traits can bring success to a group summiting Everest, teams working at sea level will also benefit from these traits.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The stories that Scott shares in his keynote captivates the audience on an emotional level, and his experiences of successes and failures drive home the strategies that will truly bring teams in any context to high performance. No doubt, the power of Scott’s storytelling has to be experienced in person.

Last week, I had a chance experience Scott’s keynote when he spoke at Brock University. I talked to some of the audience after the presentation, who shared with me how they thought Scott’s keynote impacted them.

Courtney, a fourth year Sport Management student with an exceptional passion for leadership, was deeply impacted by Scott’s talk. “He emphasized the unpredictable nature of leadership, and got me thinking about the importance of adaptability.” By talking about leadership in the most extreme of circumstances and connecting it to everyday life, she shared that Scott taught the group that it’s the little things that really matter in leadership.

Another student in the audience, who is also a fourth year student who is highly involved at Brock University. “It was the most inspiring hour and a half that I’ve had in my university career,” he shared in a conversation after Scott’s keynote. The unique, exciting stories that Scott shared inspired him to see leadership in a different light.

At the end of the day, a lesson that the successes of Scott’s keynote can teach us as leaders is that stories truly have the power to captivate and inspire.

So perhaps a question worth asking yourself is this – what “mountains” have you summited in your life, and what message can you share with your team based on your experiences?


Team Building: Does It Work?

Corporate Team Building Games

What is team building, and does it actually work?

Alright, so in an attempt to present dry research findings in a way that wouldn’t put you to sleep, I’ll tell you a short little story of my imaginary friend, Carrie. It’s a little silly, but bear with me.

Carrie was pondering the question of whether team building actually works as she skimmed a Forbes article on teams at the end of her workday. She is a mid-level manager at a local branch of a public bank, and was recently put in charge on managing a newly put-together task force. She’s still relatively new to her position, and had little experience with managing small teams, but she was determined to help guide her team towards excellence. Carrie knew that organizations are increasingly moving towards collaboration and team-based structures, so she knew that she had to figure out how best to manage teams if she wanted to move forward in her managerial career. She had heard from her mentor that hiring a team building company to come in and deliver programs to help the team gel was a really worthwhile investment, but she had her doubts. Every time she thought of team building, she thought of Michael Scott’s ridiculous antics on The Office. It all just seemed like fluff…

But there was something about team building that fascinated her, and she wanted to figure out if it was actually going to help her team work together better. She’d heard anecdotes and stories from her friends and colleagues, but something inside her told her that that wasn’t enough. Her mind took her back to a research methods class that she took in college for some reason, and it got her wondering about what research said about the effectiveness of team building programs. So…she did some digging.

That night, she spent a few hours browsing through some research studies that have been done on team building, and came across a 2009 article on a study conducted by Cameron Klein and his associates. It was a meta-analysis, which she remembered as a strategy that researchers used to combine the findings of multiple studies. Carrie knew it was complicated, but she also knew it was powerful – the findings of meta-analyses are more trustworthy than that of any single study.

This 2009 study looked at four potential outcomes of team building programs: (1) cognitive (e.g., does the team understand how to work together?), (2) affective (e.g., does the team trust each other?), (3) processes (e.g., can the team members communicate with one other effectively?), and (4) performance (e.g., how productive is the team?). A big issue on Carrie’s team was that although the members were among the top performers at the branch, their meetings were awkward. They didn’t seem to feel comfortable with one another at all, and she couldn’t figure out why. She jumped ahead to the Results section of the article, and what she found gave her some hope. Apparently, their data analyses found that team building programs seemed to impact affective outcomes more so than the other outcomes that they studied. The most important finding from this study for Carrie, though, was that the authors found that team building had a positive impact across all team outcomes that were measured. Alright, so maybe this team building thing was worth a shot…the research seemed to support it!

The next question she wanted to know was what kinds of team building programs would give her the most bang for her buck. She scrolled down the article, and found that the researchers also looked at which components of team building programs would impact participants the most. They studied four common aspects of team building programs, including goal setting, relationship building, problem solving, and role clarification. The results seem to tell her that goal setting and role clarification were the two most effective components of team building programs, so she knew that whatever program she would decide to invest in had to have at least some aspect of goal setting and role clarification.

AAAAND…scene! Carrie’s story is my goofy way of telling you that the most recent and comprehensive study on whether team building works found that it, in fact, generally does. It seems to be most effective in fostering trust and communication (among other team processes), and goal setting and role clarification are two of the most important aspects of these programs.

But…the authors also warn that, “not all teams will benefit from the same team building intervention” (p. 215). When deciding on which team building program to invest in, it’s important to ensure that it’s specifically tailored to your needs and goals. Although research can tell us whether programs are generally effective, it’s important to remember that every team and situation is unique. These findings can, and should, give us comfort that team building is a worthwhile and safe investment, but we should also be careful that the program that we invest in fits our specific needs.

Connect with Summit Team Building today to learn about the ways that we can tailor our programs to help you achieve your unique goals for your team!

What does empirical research say about the effectiveness of team building? Does it actually work? According to the most recent and comprehensive research study that has been done on this topic so far, yes, it generally does…but it’s a bit more complex than that. Using a sophisticated data analysis technique called meta-analysis, Cameron Klein and his associates collected and statistically compiled the findings of 20 separate research studies (looking at 1562 teams) on the effectiveness of team building programs in 2009.

The studies that were included in their analyses assessed four categories of potential outcomes from team building programs: (1) cognitive (e.g., declarative knowledge, teamwork competencies), (2) affective (e.g., trust, team potency), (3) processes (e.g., coordination, communication), and (4) performance (e.g., volume of sales, productivity). Also, these studies looked at four common components of team building programs, including goal setting, relationship building, problem solving, and role clarification. After analyzing their data, they found that team building had a positive and moderately strong impact on all four categories of outcomes that they looked at. More specifically, though, they found that process-related and affective outcomes were most improved by team building programs. Interestingly, they also found that the goal setting and role clarification components of these programs had the largest effect on participants. Finally, although they found that teams of all sizes benefited from these programs, large teams seemed to benefit the most.

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #2, Dependability

Dependability matters in team performance – no surprise there. We often think of people’s dependability, though, as an inherent trait…so the important question is this: can we foster dependability in our team members? If so, how?

We’ve all been there – stuck in a team with members who seem to be living on another planet. They show up late to every meeting, never follow through with their promises, are never prepared, and they never seem to be able to find any of the documents they need. They text their way through every meeting, and information seems to go in one ear and out another. They justify their lack of punctuality and organization by referencing the 2013 study that found that those who have messy desks tend to be more creative and produce more fresh insights. Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison all had messy desks, they’ll tell you, so you better not be judging them.

Dependability seems to be something that we often take for granted in teams – until we don’t have it. So it should be no surprise that Google’s Project Aristotle identified dependability as the second key characteristic of high performing teams. Their top teams have members that set and achieve goals regularly and efficiently, follow through on their promises consistently, and produce work that’s always thorough. These teams are significantly more effective and efficient – it’s not hard to imagine why. If you can’t depend on other members of your team, you can’t trust them…and as I’ve explored in the past few posts, you can’t have an effective team without trust.

A big piece of have teams that are dependable is having members that are conscientious. Conscientiousness is one of the big five personality traits that describes the extent to which people are able to stay organized, responsible, and focused on their goals. There’s a good amount of research that has identified this personality trait as being fundamental to success throughout the lifespan. For example, a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that conscientious men earned higher salaries.

The issue with looking at conscientiousness as a personality trait is that it comes with an assumption that it’s not completely malleable. While conscientiousness may not be something that we can immediately manipulate in our team members, dependability seems to be more of a characteristic that we can actually foster in our teams.

To develop dependability in teams, Google recommends that we clarify roles and responsibilities for team members, and to “develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work”. This didn’t seem too helpful, though, so I decided to ask the team building experts here at Summit, who have had decades of experience in the field, to tell me how they thought we can develop dependability in teams.

“I think it’s all about positive reinforcement,” said program director Claudia Valle. When we show people the power of being conscientious and dependable, especially when we’re in leadership position, we’re modeling the behaviour we hope to see in our team. Plus, when we add in rewards for team members who are embodying dependability, we begin to create a culture that motivates team members to align their own behaviors with this ideal.

Mary Barry, who has been building top teams for more than 15 years, talks about the importance clear expectations. One of the key components of team building programs is creating a “group agreement”, where members of the team openly discuss the ideals, values, and expectations that all members can adhere to. This is a powerful process that allows us to clearly identify group norms, and reinforce dependability as a trait that all members know they’re expected to embody.

Laurie Warkentin, Summit Team Building’s newest program director, identifies ownership and belonging as being a key influence in team members’ dependability. When team members feel like they, and their efforts, genuinely matter in the group, they’re more inclined to put forth more effort, follow through on their promises, and take ownership of their work.

So fostering dependability in teams seems to be more complex than simply clarifying roles and developing concrete plans, as Google suggests. We need to model dependable behaviour, establish clear expectations, and ensure that team members know that their choices and efforts matter.

Psychological Safety: Another Reason Why Trust Matters

Google Studies High Performance Teams

Google calls it Psychological Safety. Patrick Lencioni just calls it Trust. Really, they’re two sides of the same coin, but the point is – trust matters.

In my previous post, I reviewed some research conducted by Google that identified psychological safety as the most fundamental characteristic of high performing teams. After writing the post, I got curious about the relationship between psychological safety and another big word in research on teams – trust. Do these two ideas essentially describe the same thing? If not, what’s the difference?

According to Amy Edmundson, psychological safety and trust aren’t the same thing. While psychological safety focuses on team members’ beliefs about group norms and how they’re viewed by others in the group, trust focuses on beliefs that team members have about other. In essence, psychological safety describes people’s perception of the larger group environment, while trust describes people’s perceptions of each other.

Let’s be honest, it’s a very minor difference. While the distinction may be important for researchers trying to assess the different components of teams, for the rest of us, it’s really two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, what both of these ideas suggest is that team members’ perception of whether they can trust other members of their group is critical to their performance.

Like I reviewed last week, Google suggests that this is because teams where members trust each other are better able to support each other, tackle tough issues openly, and embrace diverse skills and perspectives. Interestingly, in his work on team trust, Patrick Lencioni provides a complimentary perspective on this issue.

Like Google, Lencioni also sees trust as fundamental to team performance. When team members trust each other, they’re not afraid of conflict, so they are able to have unfiltered and passionate debates about their ideas. When team members are able to honestly talk about their ideas, they’re able to generate plans and strategies that they can all buy in and commit to. With all members buying in, you end up with a culture where it’s normal for team members to keep each other accountable, and take full ownership of their results.

Lencioni’s perspective gives us an even deeper understanding of why trust matters in teams. But the more important point that we can take away from this is the fact that Google and Lencioni’s work both ended up essentially coming up with the same conclusions. Google spent millions of dollars and two years on their project, and Lencioni has worked with thousands of different companies before proposing his model. This underscores exactly how fundamental trust is for team performance.

So the truth is – trust is powerful.