I have just the slightest intellectual infatuation with Patrick Lencioni. In re-reading one of his many best sellers, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (seriously, if you don’t have this book, leave this blog post and buy it immediately), I was reminded of this simple exercise to build trust among a team.
Of the five dysfunctions that Lencioni discusses in his book (and I’ll make you get your own copy, or visit his website, to learn the other four), he rightly places the absence of trust at the core. In this case, he defines the absence of trust as the fear of being vulnerable with team members which prevents trust from building in the team. Attribution error is fundamentally at fault for this – the tendency for us to credit other people’s behavior with internal flaws, while interpreting our own behavior as situational. So, say a person is under stress and they behave irrationally. If we’re observing that behavior, we might say that they are a bad, untrustworthy person whereas if we’re acting oddly because of stress, we’ll likely credit the circumstances that created it.
This exercise attempts to cut through that by humanizing the the members on the team to each other, and takes about a half hour to complete. Here’s how it works:
Get around the table and have everyone answer three questions about themselves:
- Where did you grow up?
- How many siblings did you have?
- Describe a challenge you faced when you were a kid.
This exercise may seem a little touchy feely, but it accomplishes a few key attributes of building trust in the team:
- It humanizes people. Attribution error makes it extremely easy to credit a person’s behavior back to things that likely have very little to do with that. When you force team members to open up and share something personal about themselves, it makes them multi-dementsional.
- It allows team members to be vulnerable around each other. Admitting fault is uncomfortable. This exercise prepares your team to be comfortable with having for uncomfortable discussions with each other in the future.
After everyone answers, ask them what their team members shared that they didn’t already know about one another. This reinforces the exercise and allows for a natural ending to the conversation. The results may surprise you.
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