How to Build Trust: The Paradoxes of Effective Teams

“Rowing is perhaps the toughest of sports.  Once the race starts, there are no time-outs, no substitutions.  It calls upon the limits of human endurance.  The coach must therefore impart the secrets of the special kind of endurance that comes from mind, heart, and body.”  – George Yeoman Pocock

Do you have a dream, a vision you want to reach?  Often to reach it, leaders need to be effective in building a team to help make it happen.

Recently, I read a book by Daniel James Brown titled, The Boys in the Boat.  This book chronicles the epic journey of nine American young men to winning the gold medal for rowing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  These young men did not grow up rowing or from families that were well off.  They grew up in the Depression, came from struggling families, and learned to row at the University of Washington.  By learning to become a team that could flow in unity, they won the gold in a critical time during the Nazi’s rise to power.

Rowing in an eight-oar boat is a sport that cannot be won by an individual.  Daniel Brown captures four paradoxes of effective team building that must happen for trust to be built and the mission to be reached.  These paradoxes are truths that any type of team must embrace to be effective.

Value:  What seems weak can be most needed

In a rowing boat, you can have eight very strong people at the oars, but the boat is actually directed by the smallest and least powerful person in the boat, called the coxswain.  The coxswain is the only individual on the boat who does not have oars and sees where the boat is going.  This person is desired to be small so that they take up less weight in the boat, but without them the boat would never reach the finish line.  They provide the constant strategy and direction, but don’t row at all.

In a team, every person brings a point of value.  We need to acknowledge, remind and encourage the value each person brings.  I was talking with a hospital CEO.  He discussed how it was important to him that the janitorial staff knew that their role was just as important to the success of patient care as that of the role of a doctor.  If the hospital environment is not kept clean, this can have serious consequences to patient care.

How do you encourage every person on your team to know the value that they contribute to the mission?

Perseverance:  The greatest goal can be the biggest obstacle

In rowing, you want speed, but speed also has its price.  The faster you row, the more technical perfection that is required.  If an oar hits the water at the wrong time or wrong way, it can immediately offset the rhythm and speed of the boat and even throw a person out of the boat.  Greater technical precision also leads to more physical pain.  A rowing team must be committed to persevering through challenging times together.

On your way to reaching your mission, you will face challenges together.  Instead of seeing difficulties as a surprise, embrace them as part of the paradox to gaining speed.  Yesterday, I was speaking with an Executive Director who is going through a very challenging time with his board.  We ended our discussion recognizing that this time of difficulty is also a point of renewal for the board.

Where do you need to help your team see the benefit in a challenge and therefore the dedication to persevere?

Interdependence:  Don’t win by having the strongest but by compliments of strengths

It would seem logical that to build the best rowing team, you just find the strongest individuals, but this is not the case.  Effective rowing is about the physical and psychological makeup of the team together.  It is about learning how to compliment together strengths and personalities combined with a shared vision to win.

When building your team together, you need to be aware of the talents, personalities and motivations of all of your team members.  Help them to see what looks like differences actually complement each other and make them stronger.  Also, the glue that holds these individual differences together are your shared values and culture.  Shared values are the cornerstone of selecting the right people for you team.

How are you helping your team to know what their strengths and personalities are and how they can support each other?

Humility:  Strong individual confidence superseded by the team

To be a rower, you need to have ego, will power and confidence.  However, this much strong will put together on a small boat sounds like a recipe for disaster!  But for an effective rowing team, you need driven people who also have the humility to realize and embrace the need for each other.

The Boys in the Boat book focuses on the story of one individual team member, Joe Rantz.  Joe grew up in very difficult circumstances, which taught him to be self-sufficient.  But Joe never completely succeeded on a rowing team until he learned to trust every other individual in the boat.  When everyone on the boat trusted each other, they got their “swing.”  This is when a rowing team is so in sync that they reach a new level of flow and speed.

To build a great team that accomplishes the mission, team members need to know their value, persevere, be interdependent and have humility.  All of these are interlinked together and build trust.  Trust is the secret ingredient that will allow you to get your “swing.”  Trust does not follow a formula, but is discovered in community.

How will you use the above paradoxes for a discovery of trust in your team?

Take time to know the value of each team member, to inspire perseverance, build interdependence and lead the way with humility.  Which of the above paradoxes, do you most need to work on at the start of this new year?

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