Food for thought

A fresh perspective on Trust for leaders part 4

A short series of articles sharing insights and experience regarding the factors that allow leaders to significantly increase their effectiveness – just by doing a few key things differently and NOT by putting in more hours

Focus on team collaboration

This article is written with a deep respect for your valuable time – it is meant to be read in less than 5 minutes, and to hopefully spark some good reflection and action.


Welcome back! So far, the first three articles of this series have looked at individual trust and trustworthiness levers, and have more closely inspected the “individual relationships” lever. Now this piece will provide a quick deep dive into the “team collaboration” lever of the trust profile of a leader.

When working with leaders and their teams, we usually get to interview every team member before a workshop. That provides us with highly valuable insights, in addition to what the leader will say when asked about their team collaboration style and preferences. Certainly not to your surprise, what the leader says and what team members say collectively about team collaboration practices usually has some common ground. In addition, however, we typically find a significant number of differences in views. That’s natural and human – and related to different roles of people in teams, different preferences and styles, and simple disagreement about what should and should not be done.

So let’s see how we can break down the “team collaboration” lever into more digestible, actionable components. This involves:

  • Values that are important for team work, creating the glue that brings people together 
  • Enthusiasm and a deeply-held conviction that working well with others will take you (much) further than relying on your own feet
  • Willingness and ability to really create synergies, where the famous “1 + 1 is supposed to be more than 2”-formula really works. 

Creating the glue very often involves knowing the people involved in a team or a project, from more than a “what’s your job”-perspective. This will help greatly in getting people to feel connected to each other, to the company, or to the joint purpose. Which, in turn, will help people feel that it is worth putting their best into their work efforts as well as helping each other in achieving overarching objectives. It also provides individuals with the ability to shine by being who they are and/or doing what they do best. Obviously, this seems to be more important in jobs where team collaboration is a huge component part and perhaps less so when individual professionals are at work. But, then, even the best individual professional (be they lawyers, architects, …) need to rely upon others to really make an impact.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. This African saying holds true particularly in organisations with a challenging mission and environment, and those that say they need enthusiastic employees. Most organisations/teams eventually must go far a lot more often than they have to go fast. Going together, creating successes jointly or emphasizing joint performance are often more difficult to “do” than to talk about. These qualities are utterly useful when hoping to inspire others to go “the extra mile” or helping to spread enthusiasm beyond the immediate team/environment. Creating competitive advantage is a lot more demanding if the “extra mile” and “enthusiasm” are not available to an organisation.

In light of individualised performance measurements, getting people to really create synergies is often something very difficult. It might include people spending time working on a “team optimum” which isn’t identical to the individual optimum (in other words: Helping someone on something without knowing if/when this favour is returned). It also means investing in the development of relationships, i.e. not spending all your time at work on achieving “your” objectives, but investing time into relationship building. Easier said than done, considering quick shifts in priorities that can happen any time or when working under significant time pressure.

At this stage, you might say: “Well, where’s the new insight?” You might look at your own team’s collaboration practices, giving yourself and your team some credit on how well you are doing already. However, our consistent experience at work with our clients suggests that there is a quite a gap for many teams, between their team collaboration performance and how this is being perceived in their environment. How can this happen? And what can we do about it? 

The big trick here is, of course, to know how to “do” all of the above (the glue, the enthusiasm, the synergies) and not just having the conviction that this is important. People have different needs, as expressed in their personality traits and behavioural preferences; and too often we naturally tend to think that “their” needs are just like “our” needs. As Carol Kauffman of Harvard once put it during a conference at ESMT in Berlin: “The golden rule ‘treat everyone like you want to be treated’ should no longer apply, it should be replaced by ‘treat everyone like they want to be treated’ – known as the platinum rule”. The latter is easy to say and quite demanding to do. Yet it helps to trigger everyone’s sensibility for each other, for differences and how they can enrich (as opposed to hinder) collaboration.

The next article will provide a quick deep dive into the “leading in demanding situations” lever of the trust profile of a leader. See you again next week!

The content of the article relies predominantly on three sources: 

  • The work by the Trust Management Institute, mostly by Tom Sommerlatte and Jean-Luc Fallou, as laid out in their book “Quintessenz der Vertrauensbildung” (Springer, Heidelberg, 2012)
  • Several thousands of hours of working with senior executives and teams in their quest to improve individual and team effectiveness and reduce effort needed to achieve desired results
  • Many conversations with like-minded professionals who share the same interest

Happy reading – and please do let me know your reactions and questions. Always willing and happy to engage in a conversation!

You can reach me at

Rolf Pfeiffer is a Germany-based executive coach. He is one of the original founders of Leadership Choices, a professional services firm dedicated to leadership development - with European roots and global reach. His clients often say that Rolf effectively helps them to achieve outstanding results by taking on new perspectives on their activities and impact. Rolf has worked as an executive coach and facilitator since 2003, his assignments have taken him to many European countries, the Middle East, the USA and South Africa. He works in senior faculty and coach roles for the Center for Creative Leadership and is member of the executive education faculty of HEC Paris in Qatar. In his coaching work, he draws upon his consulting and business experience (from senior roles with leading firms in their respective fields) and helps his clients to navigate the dynamics of their organisational environment effectively.

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