Trust and Teamwork – lessons learned from I-26


by Jack Warren

Jack W 3On a recent drive through South Carolina I-26, I was reminded of what I see frequently everywhere, but it’s never more apparent than when I drive on I-94 through Wisconsin. That is, drivers who camp out in the left lane on the interstate highway.

Moving along at a pretty good clip through South Carolina, we suddenly slowed to 45 mile per hour. As I drove over the crest of a hill, it was apparent that the reason for this backup was not an accident or construction, but the all-too-familiar slow cars in the left lane. In this particular instance, for about one mile ahead, 70% of the cars were in the left lane with 30% in the right, with one car at the very front who appeared to be reluctant to give up his position as the drum major.

What we’re looking at here are two different issues. The first is that driver who, despite laws dictating otherwise, does not want to give up the left lane. Then there are the other drivers who are afraid to give up the left lane at this point, figuring that they’ll never get back on this train if they give up their position.

Imagine if you will that all the cars up ahead of members of some great automobile team, moving down the highway. The outlier here is the guy at the front who’s a detriment to the team because of his lack of skills or knowledge every time he’s “on the field.” The other members of the team want to do the right thing, but don’t trust their “teammates” enough to do what they know ought to be done (move over into the right lane). What you’re left with is an inefficient, poorly executing, and (ultimately) slow “team”, resulting (in this case) in a traffic backup. In our team analogy, it’s definitely no recipe for wins or sustained success.

Think of your team, your staff, or your overall organization. You’ve got team members who just can’t perform. These are the aforementioned outliers who may just need to be kept off the field during all but mop up time. But the rest of your team need to be counted on to work together in order to make your organization successful. That’s where trust comes in. Each member of the team can expend as much effort as he likes, but unless he trusts that his teammates will make the right decisions, it’s all for naught.

Everything will come to a grinding halt the moment mistrust creeps in. You’re not going to move out of the line even briefly if you’re afraid that your teammates will not let you back in line at the appropriate time. As you can see when played out in our traffic scenario, the result is a chain reaction, with no one trusting any of their teammates, and the result is chaos.

What are you doing to build trust in your organization? What are you doing to foster the kind of trust that leads to greater teamwork? It’s not as complex as it appears and trying to nurture these relationships within a team is far easier than for scores of random cars on the highway.

First of all, demonstrate what happens when teammates do not trust one another. Secondly demonstrate the results of trust and teamwork. Lastly, get the members of your team to practice and drill. Engage in team building activities. Yes, even to the extreme of Navy SEAL-type activities.

Don’t assume that knowledge and skill will carry the day. If the members of your team or organization don’t trust each other, you can soon expect a traffic jam.


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