Trust, accountability among vital elements to create great teams

By Mr. Edward Lopez (Picatinny)October 24, 2018

Team dysfunctions that hinder effectiveness
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Who wouldn't want to belong to a great team, where there is mutual trust, where all members are held to clear standards equally, and where members feel safe to express their views, even if they go against the grain?

Such an imaginary team has great appeal, but actually achieving such team dynamics can collide with other factors: competing interests, fear of damaging relationships with too much candor, hiding failures, or a feeling that actual accountability is weak or rarely enforced.

The challenges of building teams and shaping an organization's culture were the subject of a day-long interactive workshop held on Sept. 24 for leaders of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal.

The workshop, called "Leading Great Teams, Creating an Environment That Fosters Trust, Teamwork & Results," was conducted by Justin Foster and Brian Hite from the Ready and Resilient Performance Center at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

"What you need to do is foster culture by design, not by default," Foster told the participants. The workshop materials defined culture as the values, beliefs, behaviors, artifacts and reward systems that influence people's behavior on a daily basis. Culture can affect workforce engagement, retention, innovation and performance.

A main focus of the workshop was the five dysfunctions of a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

"If we have an absence of trust, we are less likely to engage in conflict," Foster said. "What this is really about is the desire to preserve artificial harmony. Ignore the controversial topics that are critical to a team's success."

Foster said barriers to open discussions may be a perceived lack of authority, or trying to avoid hurting someone's feelings.

Building trust involves creating an environment of psychological safety, where people are comfortable being themselves and can discuss disagreements without fear of negative consequences.

The symptoms of an unsafe environment are hiding mistakes and failures, withholding information, avoiding opinions and criticisms, along with showing complacency rather than an urge to innovate.

Foster said lack of commitment occurs when there is ambiguity, a lack of clarity or buy-in that prevents people from committing to the decision that is being made.

Also, employees may feel that today's direction or priority can shift unexpectedly. Those shifts may leave an employee wondering how much energy to expend on the latest mission statement.

Inattention to collective results can stem from placing individual status and egos above team achievements, Foster said. "This is playing for the name on the back of my jersey, not the name in the front of my jersey."

Avoidance of accountability really boils down to low standards, Foster said. "It encourages mediocrity and really encourages resentment when not all team members are being held to the same standard," he added.

"Will an employee step up, or do they see that nobody really cares, so I'm not going to work as hard either. It comes down to your culture," Foster added. "And really what you permit is what you are perpetuating."

During one workshop exercise, participants were asked why members of a team might hesitate to hold other members accountable.

Some of the answers were: "If I hold you accountable, you'll hold me accountable." "Some people don't want to be held accountable." "Nobody wants to be the bad guy either."

Holding another team member accountable is uncomfortable, Foster said, or someone may feel that an existing good relationship with a failing team member could be damaged.

For their part, supervisors can encourage accountability among team members by documenting clear goals, roles and standards, according to workshop materials.

"Great teams hold one another accountable," Foster said at the conclusion of the workshop, when he also issued a challenge to the assembled leaders.

"Schedule a meeting with your direct reports to tell them what you are going to do different," Foster said. "Now we're taking risks, right? And invite them to hold you accountable.

"Leaders go first," Foster added. "Leaders model the behavior that you want to see in your subordinates. If you want them to be vulnerable, if you want them to hold one another accountable, you have to go first."

The Great Teams Workshop is part of the Army's Ready and Resilient campaign, as well as part of the Master Resilience Training, or MRT, program. The Armaments Center has been offering MRT training to the workforce since October 2015.

The Armaments Center is the first organization in the Army Materiel Command to take advantage of the Great Teams Workshop. There was no cost to bring the workshop to Picatinny Arsenal.


The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Armaments Center develops armaments systems designed to provide the lethality and overmatch capabilities needed to support the warfighter. RDECOM has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

Related Links:

RDECOM Armaments Center

U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command

Picatinny Arsenal homepage