If your team had a meeting you could not attend, and you heard there was a decision made in the meeting which you did not agree with, how would you react? Would you feel like the team leader took advantage of your absence to move forward without a dissenting view? Would you feel like your team did not value your voice in decision-making? Would you assume that sometimes things need to move at a fast pace, and the team leader was dealing with constraints that made a timely decision critical, knowing you could still share input that might help shape direction going forward?
In multiple previous posts, I have talked about the importance of trust as the foundation to building effective teams. The tendency to measure yourself based on your known good intentions while measuring others only based on the result of their actions is a critical crack in the foundation of trust; there is clearly something driving a team member away from the trusting assumption that a teammate was acting with good intention. In a team built on trust, team members are deliberate to understand the intention of others before judging their actions. Teammates give each other the same grace they would apply to themselves; they view from the lens of trusting intentions were honorable even if outcomes did not align with expectations. In a team where trust is fractured, people still gauge their own performance based on their intentions, but they disregard the possibility of the good intentions of teammates when considering others’ performance.
In the scenario from the first paragraph, if the team had built a foundation of trust, the team member would not assume the team leader had malicious intentions in making the decision in the meeting. Trusting the team leader’s intentions, while seeking to understand the actions, would be normal behavior. The ensuing conversations between the team member and the team leader flow much more efficiently when the starting point for follow-up is a mutual understanding that the decision was not made for malicious reasons.
Having trust established within the team and naturally beginning from a position of assuming good intention is not a loophole for excusing deficient performance. Teams with good intentions and poor results are still not effective teams, obviously. Similarly, coaching people to trust intentions within a team is not a shortcut where people with bad intentions can take advantage of a team. Trust, and the importance of safely being able to assume good intentions, simply allow an efficient flow toward the goal of shared accountability. When team members know with confidence that malicious intention is never the root of poor results, accountability discussions are not viewed as personal attacks, and the proper balance between empathy and accountability is naturally productive.