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Trust, Collaboration & Accountability: Building team relationships that improve performance

At the executive level, a leader’s ability to build an effective team is probably the most important competence in the current marketplace. In reality it is the most important competence at every level of management, but it starts at the top.

Collins and Porras (Good to Great) famously stated that you start to build a great company by getting the right people on the bus. What are the criteria most managers use to select people? A study of 2000 recruiting managers by Harris Poll in 2016 asked what are the most sought after traits in new hires? Rated 1 and 2 respectively were a strong work ethic and dependability (consistently follows through to get the job done). This sounds very much like the definition of accountability. We look for the perfect “self-accountable” employee forgetting that the environment they enter strongly influences how they ultimately perform.

I rediscovered this truth as I conducted a 360 assessment for a CEO of a midsize company in the software industry. On a scale from 1-4 she received 4’s on most of the leadership attributes being measured. I’ve done many 360’s with these questions so I can safely say her unique results held as reliable indicators of her performance. I should mention she also had the highest financial results in her peer group.

From the first interview I was told how much people enjoyed working for her and with their team:

“We trust each other, we listen, and everyone is valued.”

“She is unique in my experience especially in fostering healthy debate and collaboration. Her personality, which fosters openness and directness, is unique.”

“She has never lost the recognition that her team is highly valuable to her success so she is very open to listening to them. She encourages debate and once she makes a decision, she expects people to fall in line.”

Those of you who might be skeptical of such positive evaluations should know that in 30 years I have not experienced an entire group of people maintaining a persistent false image of superior performance when it was not deserved. No matter how much people may fear a CEO, eventually the anonymous interview and survey process outs any negative or destructive traits. In

This leader seems to have the ability to motivate accountability, but how does her ability to build trust and collaboration help her do this?

Some of you have followed my writings so I refer you to my earlier article on the Eight Beliefs of Relationship Centered Leadership. I wrote them with safety performance in mind, but the CEO 360’s that I have conducted over the years reinforce that these beliefs are really at the center of high performance cultures.

When I ask leaders about their beliefs around building an effective team, they don’t seem to realize that they are operating off of a different set of assumptions than managers who are unsuccessful. This matches what we know from the study of organizational culture. The underlying assumptions and beliefs are mostly unconscious, but are the real drivers of organizational behavior (2004 Schein, Edgar, Organizational Culture and Leadership). This is why leaders need to pay attention to our beliefs and assumptions.

Of the eight I found the following three beliefs particularly applicable to this CEO:

1.   Inclusion precedes accountability.

2.   Innovation, resilience, inclusion and accountability are interdependent.

3.   People are able and willing to contribute to the success of the enterprise.

Here are some examples of how she demonstrates these beliefs:

1.   Inclusion precedes accountability.

The CEO made the expectations for the job very clear, setting priorities, and regularly checked in on progress with each member and the whole team. The weekly team meetings weren’t just status updates. She encouraged questions and conversations that allowed them to understand each other’s functions and to help each other achieve their goals. In the beginning she would always start with Sales and Finance reporting, and often they would run out of time so that the other functions did not get equal attention. When she got feedback that the other function leaders felt excluded and less valued she changed the order of reporting so that customer service and operations went first. Team members felt that it contribute to their ability to resolve difficult restructuring issues and strategic changes successfully.

2.   Inclusion, resilience, innovation, and accountability are interdependent.

The strong sense of trust and collaboration that grew out of inclusion in the team meetings helped the team take the risks that led to innovation. Sometimes things didn’t work well so resilience was important and possible because instead of blaming each other they helped each other. The CEO’s sense of humor and calmness during crisis carried the team forward. She explained her attitude, “No one is dying. This is all fixable.”

3.   People are able and willing to contribute to the success of the enterprise.

Proctor and Gamble has held this corporate belief since the 1960’s where it inspired self-directed work teams. This CEO didn’t consciously think about this belief. She just knew that her people would do their best, and she was going to do everything to support them to be successful. It worked. She inherited staff that had competed for her position. They loved working for her, and were doing great jobs. People from her old company followed her because they loved working for her. Hires she hadn’t worked with before were doing great. She did let one person go because he couldn’t do his job, but she was under a lot of pressure from the board to fire another team member whom she insisted to keeping because of his people management skills. He ended up delivering a 20% overall increase in each of two years so far. Smiling, she asked me, “Did I make the right decision?”


This CEO had superior people skills, but she was also knowledgeable about her industry and “wicked smart.” As a result her team produced superior financial returns while undergoing an acquisition. I hope her example encourages those of you who have similar beliefs to stand your ground, and if you don’t have those beliefs, to experiment with them.

With tremendous pressures out there to hold people accountable, it is too easy to turn to policy, command and control, micromanaging or even firing people who have not really had the support they need to succeed. Practicing mutual respect, understanding and fostering a common purpose, along with good business practices produces results and a better quality of life.

Rosa Antonia Carrillo

Rosa Antonia Carrillo, MSOD is a leadership and culture expert with an emphasis in environment safety and health. Her upcoming book, The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership, is scheduled for publication by Routledge Publishing has been called required reading to understand the foundations of "safety culture" by Edgar Schein. Her ground breaking articles on relationship centered leadership, safety culture, mindful conversations, trust and open communication have gained the attention of of leaders world-wide. In recognition of her contributions, the Safety Institute of Australia invited her as the Wigglesworth Memorial Lecturer in 2015. She is president of Carrillo & Associates, Inc. a provider for employee engagement, leadership development, and coaching services for leaders of companies that want to achieve high performance in EHS while delivering business results. The C&A team delivers engaging leadership development workshops to executives, managers, supervisors and employees to help them transform into leaders who build collaborative, trusting, and motivating work environments. At the same time, given the unique challenges of operating a high- hazard facility, the training focuses on managing and enhancing employee performance as well as effective decision-making. Ms. Carrillo holds a Masters of Science in Organizational Development and is former adjunct faculty for the Presidential Key Executive MBA program at Pepperdine University.