The Big Three + #Trust = #Teamwork


Susan struggled with her team’s performance because she thought she did everything right in bringing them together. She used The Big Three for effective teamwork by developing a shared vision, creating a collaborative spirit, and pushing the group to synergize. Although her team was comprised of highly talented, incredibly knowledgeable teachers, they weren’t functioning at the level Susan knew they could. The purpose of any team is critical to its success, and as local educator and leader Nathalie Princilus suggested, the team must reflect on the vision at the next meeting. Superintendent Burrows added to that, saying that the team needed to revisit the purpose and their audience in terms of who the work will impact.

It’s also imperative that they truly collaborate, which is what our friend Doug Timm says they need to do in terms of building consensus around their problem-of-practice. Amy, another #SH302 reader and excellent local educator, reinforces the need to “ideate,” getting all the possible ideas on the table before moving forward.

Two readers, Amy and Sharon, commented on “trust” as the next step for Susan and we agree so we discussed it in our #onethingseries. Just getting the right players on the team doesn’t mean that they’ll gel right away. The Big Three are important but this group isn’t sharing freely and ideas aren’t complimenting one another as Susan would have suspected given the talent of each individual.


Synergy is when collaboration creates something special and new that no one person could have done on their own, and that’s what Susan needs regarding student achievement in her school.

The problem with teamwork is that too often the vision for what the team needs to accomplish isn’t clear, but Susan has that part pretty well established. But as many of our readers commented, we suggest reviewing the vision or mission for any team at every single meeting to start the discussion. This reinforces the team’s purpose and Susan can certainly do that. The vision should be clear on the agenda and reflected in the minutes. With a clear vision and a lack of sharing as the identified problem, it’s definitely time to build trust among the team members. Susan thought back to Pat Riley’s quote on“unselfish trust” as an ingredient for winning. Trust is something that teams need to work on and leaders have to be able to build trust in many ways that go beyond just enjoying a trusting relationship with others. Great leaders know how to build trust in 5 important ways:

  1. Build trust between the leader and someone else.
  2. Build trust between two other people.
  3. Build trust between team members.
  4. Restore personal trust with someone else.
  5. Restore trust between two other people who have suffered a loss of trust.

Susan needs to apply #3 with her team. She needs strategies for building trust, and she needs to demonstrate her trust for the team before expecting them to have trust with one another. We suggest three ways for Susan (and you) to build trust for stronger teamwork:

#1. Get your team off campus. If you want to change their mindset, change the environment. Teams need time away from the hustle-and-bustle of the workplace environment.

Find a local establishment that has a nice conference room and order some food.

#2. Start the meeting with icebreakers. Don’t get down to business right away; that’s a mistake. It may seem like the right thing to do so that you don’t waste time but it’s more productive to start by sharing a personal or professional antidote and asking others to do the same.

Have each team member share something at the start of the meeting. This can be as simple as noting something new that’s happening with your family or kids or even sharing where you went to college.

#3. Review high trust behaviors. Covey has a list of high trust behaviors that include things like “straight talk,” “listening first,” and “confronting reality.” Teams need a model and expectations for how to behave.

Be explicit with trust behaviors and teamwork expectations. Teach your team how to be trustworthy and watch them come alive.

Susan needed to add trust to her Big Three so that her team could truly be effective. She had the first three ingredients, arguably what most leaders think of when building a team, but she hadn’t put in the time needed as the leader so that her team could accomplish the goals they set.

  1. A Shared Vision: Set a clear purpose for your team, review and reflect on the purpose at the start of each meeting. If the group gets off target, come back to the vision as needed throughout the meeting time.
  2. A Collaborative Spirit: Use an established PLC model for working together.
  3. Synergy: Make sure the team has a model for thinking about the problem and possible solutions. We suggest design thinking as a way to get any team to develop outcomes that wouldn’t have otherwise been achievable without the team.
  4. Trust: Build trust first before expecting an outcome from the team. Leaders build trust on teams with very explicit behaviors that we can both demonstrate as the leader and teach to the members of the team.

Use The Big Three + Trust as your leadership practices to take any team to the next level. Teamwork is complex but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Let us know one way that you build trust on your team. Do you have any favorite places to meet off campus, any good icebreakers to share, or a good way to model trust behaviors for your team? We look forward to hearing from you!

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J.

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