Building trust in teams: What and why?

How do you build trust in a team? First, let’s understand what trust really is and why it matters.

Who do you trust?

The first people who likely came to mind were your partner, your family, and your friends (hopefully). 

How about your boss? Your coworker? It’s harder to say. 

A 2016 study conducted by Edelman surveyed 33,000 people in 28 countries. From it, they discovered: One in three people don’t trust their employer. And only 24% of employees in this study believe their CEO exhibited highly ethical behavior.

In our own Know Your Team survey this past year of 597 managers and employees, we found that folks were slightly more trustful of one another: About 8% of employees said they rarely or never trust their manager. That’s almost 1 in 10 employees not trusting their manager. 

Why defining trust matters

Whether 1 in 3 employees or 1 in 10 employees don’t trust their managers – both are significant occurrences. Especially given the amount of time we interact with our coworkers, and the projects and outcomes that are on the line, it’s startling.

Are we really spending all this time with people we don’t trust? Should we be doing anything about this?

To answer those questions, we first have to define “trust” clearly. Misconstrue what trust actually is, and you spend time on the wrong things. Get it right, and building trust gets easier.

What trust is NOT:  Likability

We often equate trust with likability. We think, “This is a nice person” or “This is the kind of person I’d want to hang out with on weekends”… So we trust them. 

However, that’s only part of the equation. 

Consider someone in your company you don’t trust. You might like her. She’s affable, genuine and definitely tries her best. But trusting her with a high-profile project? You hesitate – she hasn’t shown the track record you need to feel confident. You don’t give her the big project because, honestly, you just don’t trust her enough.

So you if you want someone to trust you, it’s not enough that they like you. It’s not enough that they think you have good intentions. They’ve got to think you’re capable. They’ve got to think you have what it takes to prove something through. 

You might think someone is a good person – but you don’t trust them to actually get the work done. You need both.

This is an important distinction because many leaders accidentally optimize for likability as a means to build trust. They try to “be friends” with their direct reports, thinking it’ll mean their team will trust them more.

If we can internalize that trust is not likability, it causes us to not fall into the trap of trying to please everyone around us. If we want to build trust, there’s something deeper we have to access.

So then, if trust isn’t likability, what is it?

What trust IS: Intentions + Behavior

In a 1998 paper, Denise M. Rousseau suggested this definition of trust:  “A psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another.”

In short, trust is two things:  Intentions and Behavior. It’s people’s perception of who you are, and their expectation of what you can do. 

The 4 Cores

Stephen M.R. Covey defines trust in his popular book, “Speed of Trust,” similarly to Rousseau. To Covey, trust is the belief in who the person is, and a belief in their abilities – a person’s “Character” and their “Capabilities.” Covey then further breaks down trust into what he calls “Four Cores”:

  • Integrity – This means being honest, walking the talk, and being congruent with what you believe. You can’t trust someone unless you believe they have integrity. When someone is assessing your integrity, they’re wondering, “Do you have values I align with? Are you a good person?” 
  • Intent – This is your agenda or mission. Your team must trust your intent before they can trust you. A person sizing up your intent will wonder, “Are you thinking about yourself, or others, in this situation? Do you have the short-term, or the long-term in mind?”
  • Capabilities  – This is your talents, attitudes, skills, and knowledge. When someone is determining whether or not to trust you, they’ll consider, “Does this person have the expertise to do this job as well as they say they can?” Based on our survey, we found that both managers and employees most question their each others’ capabilities (26% of employees said this, and 36% of managers said this).
  • Results – This is your track record, your performance. You can’t be trusted unless you’ve shown results in some way that you can be trusted to follow-through. When you ponder about a coworker, “What has this person done that proves I can trust her?” you’re seeking results.

Warmth + Competence

Another related lens for understanding trust is described by organizational experts Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger. They revealed the two elements needed for a leader to be trusted were “Warmth” and “Competence” – with warmth needing to come first. 

According to their research, when you project strength too quickly, people have a harder time trusting you. They explain in Harvard Business Review, “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

These perceptions of warmth and competence are powerful: “Insights from the field of psychology show that these two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us.”

How do you show warmth and competence? Cuddy and her research partners detail how warmth can mean positive body language, affirming words, generous actions, and even a smile. Competence can be projected similarly through body language (such as standing up straight), your past track record, and the actions you take going forward.

Like Covey, Cuddy’s research and explanation of the requirements for trust echo Rousseau’s definition of intention + behavior. Trust is all about who people think you are (warmth), and what they think you can do (competence).

Getting this distinction straight helps lay the groundwork for you to build trust in your team. You can now understand why someone might distrust you. Perhaps you haven’t defined your intent clearly enough. Perhaps it’s because of your past behavior. As a result, most importantly, you now can start to think how you can build trust in your team.

The clearer understanding we have of trust and what it really is, the clearer path we have to our teams trusting us more.

The Mindset Shift: How to become a good new manager

How to become be a good new manager? Of all the management advice for new managers, embrace this one, first.

Don’t be fooled: Becoming a manager for the first time is deceptively difficult.

No matter how many leadership books you’ve read or conversations you’ve had with mentors – the transition to becoming a manager is precarious.

Talk to any leader, and they’ll affirm this. “I was a terrible manager when I first started,” most will say. Myself included!

This is because the change required to be a good new manager isn’t apparent from the outside looking in. You’re not truly aware of the change that’s needed in the role, until you’re actually in the role.

So what change do you need to make as a new manager? From 15,000+ people we’ve surveyed through Know Your Team and thousands of conversations with managers in our online community, the #1 consistent insight folks have shared is this:

Becoming a new manager isn’t merely a change in what you do – it’s a change in how you think.

When you become a manager, your responsibilities change and your daily schedule changes. But it’s your mindset that changes the most.

The biggest change in thinking, as a new manager, is that your best work is not you doing your best work. Your best work is creating an environment for others to do their best work.

You don’t think about, “Am I moving fast enough?” Instead, you now contemplate, “Am I removing obstacles so my team can move fast enough?”

You don’t consider, “Do I know the answer to this?” Instead, you ask yourself, “What am I doing to help my team become experts and find the answer?”

Becoming a good manager starts with how you think, not what you do. Shift your mindset, and the actions follow.

This shift in mindset, while seemingly obvious, is both substantial and hard to internalize. What previously indicated “success” for you as an individual contributor doesn’t indicates success anymore.

No longer do you pat yourself on the back when someone says, “Great work” or “I love what you did here”. As a manager, the small bump of validation happens when someone says: “Now I understand,” “Thank you for listening,” or “I’m excited to work on this.” The small wins change when you’re a manager.

This shift doesn’t happen overnight. We have to disregard the prior experiences of we were rewarded for as an individual contributor. We have to reconfigure our default settings of behavior that got us to where we are now.

But if you can embrace this mindset shift as quickly as possible, your ability to become a good manager exponentially increases.

You don’t have to wait til you’re in the thick of everything, as a manager, to know what you must change.

Now you know: You must change your thinking, first.

Watch our lessons for leaders: The Heartbeat Interview ❤️ with Amir Salihefendić, CEO + Founder of Doist

With over 13 million customers all over the world, Amir talks about his motivations as a leader, and the importance of constant learning. 

He also turns the tables and asks me some questions 🙈 Read on…

Every two weeks as part of The Heartbeat ❤️, I asks one question to a founder, CEO, or business owner I respect. This week, I interviewed Amir Salihefendić, CEO + Founder of Doist

Claire: Hi everyone. I’m Claire Lew. I’m the CEO of Know Your Team. Today, we have an incredibly special guest on The Heartbeat. We have Amir Salihefendić, who is the CEO and founder of Doist, this amazing company that has over 13 million users and builds products like Todoist and Twist, productivity apps that are used all over the world. I think what’s most fascinating is they’ve been able to have this reach with a 50 person company, completely remote, and bootstrapped from the very beginning. Amir, I know I’m a big fan of your work. You’re a member of The Watercooler, our online community, and have just loved always your perspective about leadership. I’m excited to ask you today this one question here on The Heartbeat.

Amir: Well Claire, it’s amazing to be here. I’m also a huge fan of your work. I need some productivity tips because I’m unsure how you can pull it off like all of these projects and you are just like two people. It’s very, very fascinating and inspiring.

Claire: Oh thank you, thank you. I don’t know, it’s never as glamorous as it looks, for sure. If we’re fooling some people, then my job is done. Amir, this question that I want to ask you about leadership that I’ve been asking all sorts of leaders who I admire is what’s one thing you wish you would have learned earlier as a leader? 

Amir: That’s a very good question.

The thing is, I never actually really aspired to be a leader. It’s kind of like I was forced into that.

Maybe having some kind of aspiration to actually learn it earlier or see the value of it, yeah. I was always a lone wolf. I just like to work alone, and I didn’t really like to work a lot with people. Learning all of these skills has been a challenge yeah. I would definitely say yeah, probably much earlier on, I would have liked to have a mentor or somebody telling me, “This actually is very important for your future.”

Claire: Absolutely. I think there are so many people who can relate to that, so many CEOs and managers who I speak with are like, “Yeah, I just found myself in this role.” For you, Amir, let’s rewind the clock here. What did you see yourself becoming? What is the story behind how you became CEO and founder of this company that has millions of customers and you’ve got employees all over the world? How did that happen by accident?

Amir: Yeah. I think if you listen to a lot of stories, it’s like the similar story line where you just have an idea, and you just are very passionate the idea, and you want to see this happen in the world and create this. Then at some point, you figure out, all the skills that I have are not sufficient to actually implement this. Then you need to go out and find people and convince them to join you. Basically, my journey, I saw multiple projects in the past, and I was always very project-driven.

Initially, I think my biggest success, what I thought about was a spell checker. I grew it actually and sold it off. I was still in my early 20s, maybe even younger than that. That’s that, and creating a spell checker, if you use some library stuff, it’s not really that difficult. Then once you venture into how the project … I merged onto this, which is the task manager Todoist for the last 10 years, the complexity is very, very huge. Especially right now, you have so many platforms. You can’t just pull it off all by yourself.

I got up here, I’m like, “Hey, if I really want to make something impactful, I really need to have a team and a company and more people that actually believe the same things that I do.” That’s what’s my story. I think it’s also much more healthy, because I think it’s a very bad habit right now.

The people who aspire to be leaders of their field – that shouldn’t be your inspiration. You should want to create something and then hire people and become the CEO afterwards.

Claire: Absolutely. In some ways then, maybe not learning all the stuff earlier was maybe a good thing? Rather, what I really appreciate about that sentiment Amir is that you’re saying that your focus isn’t to just tell people what to do, or to assume the name or the title, but to actually want to have an impact and to create the work. That was the path that got you to being a leader. I think there’s quite a few people like you said who’ve followed that story line and that are archetype.

I guess my question to you, to circle back to what you expressed as, “Oh, well I do wish I would have known a little bit about what I was getting into.” What would you say, of all the things, comes first to mind of like, “Had I known that this was part of the role, I wish I would have prepared this better,” or you mentioned, “I wish maybe I would have found a mentor earlier so that I could have talked to them more about X”? What is X?

Amir: As you know, it’s like a very diverse job.

You actually have to be good at almost everything. At least know something about everything because if you don’t, then you’re probably not going to be very good. Your company’s not going to be very good at that aspect.

Right now, we don’t have any sales [department]. It’s from the reflection that I don’t know anything about sales, or anybody in the company knows about sales. So we are really, really bad at it.

I think it’s the same thing and everything as a leader, especially as a founder. I think you need to be very good at learning stuff and changing yourself. I didn’t really know that in the beginning. I told you, you just had to cooperate to get products and hire good people…

Claire: That’s not it? That’s hard enough by the way. That’s hard enough as is. You just talked about two extremely difficult things, create a kick-ass product and hire kick-ass people. Those are hard in itself. You’re saying there’s another layer of optimizing and evolving your ability to learn very quickly as a leader it sounds like,

Amir: Yeah. Especially right now, as you’re scaling and adding more people, I think it becomes much more challenging, yeah. Definitely I think I still need to change myself and adapt myself to new situation. Then also people inside the company, we have a lot of people that have been with the company for over five years. They also need to do that. Kind of a journey, as you probably know.

Claire: It’s a journey for all of us. I’m curious, and you slightly touched on this, but I would love to dig deeper into first of all, how do you know what are the things that you’re supposed to be learning? The ocean is infinite and your time is not. Is it that there’s like a pain in the business and you’re reacting to the pain? Is it that you as Amir, you take time off to go out into the woods and you read and you self-reflect? Is it that yeah, you have a small council of mentors that you talk to? How do you know what to go deep on, what to start learning, what to start evolving yourself as you said?

Amir: That’s a very good question. I think there’s different resources you can use. I think Twitter is actually amazingly good. You can filter your feed, and you follow the interesting people. There’s a lot of good stuff there. Even also being part of the community like the Watercooler is also great. Yeah, for instance, book recommendations or an issue that you have, you can go in and see what do other people think you need to do in that situation? I mean even a community I think is very important, even for myself. 

I was an early part of the HackerNews community, though HackerNews is quite toxic right now, but in the beginning it was actually very good and an amazing resource. Over the years it has become worse. The thing is, having a community I think is also very important. Then also just being a sponge. I read a lot, like both articles and books and audio books, podcasts. I doubt you can actually say you need to be very good at a specific thing because you need to know a bit about everything, I think. Then once you have a problem, then you go deeply into it and figure out what should we do here? Yeah, that’s at least my strategy.

Claire: Absolutely. No, I find it actually quite inspiring. I think the undercurrent of what you are describing is two things. One is almost a insatiable curiosity to know more, to be better, to feel like, “You know what? I don’t have all the answers. There are things and aspects that I need to learn.” Then I think also is the refusal to be complacent. I think as leaders, it can be very easy, especially when at least what I’ve observed is usually become a leader be you’re good at something. Rarely do you just get into the position because you’re bad at a bunch of things. You get into the position because you’re good at something. 

When you’re good at something, it’s very easy to really sit on that and be like, “Oh, I’m good at building really good products,” or, hiring people where I can delegate tasks or whatever. You forget the stuff you’re not good at, which was what you’re saying, to really zoom in on. I those are really wonderful takeaways. I’m curious as well, Amir, for folks who are watching this, who are new managers, or who are maybe just really struggling as a founder or as an entrepreneur. How can they put this into practice with limited time? Is there something that you do or say to yourself to remind yourself to be learning, to be reinventing yourself, to be evolving in a certain way? What advice would you have to any new manager or to any entrepreneur who’s struggling?

Amir: Yeah, I would probably have a bunch of stuff to say.

I think the most important part, at least for me, is having a mission and then being driven by this mission. It forces you just to learn and adapt and want to improve.

I do like if you are motivated by something else, let’s say money or fame or whatever else, then I doubt you will actually want it that much. Maybe you will become complacent. Maybe you’ll be satisfied. 

At least what I have found out with me, I am actually never satisfied. I find it very, very brief, because I think it’s an amazing human trait. Then that is really a big energy driver. I can always see what are we actually bad at. Of course, you can’t really become too pessimistic. I think complacency is definitely a huge problem, especially if you have any kind of success. I think it’s very easy to just go and be happy with yourself, yeah. 

Claire: Absolutely. No, I think that advice is gold.

Amir: I’m also very curious. I also have a question for you.

Claire: Oh my gosh. Yeah, let’s do it. I’m all ears.

Amir: You have probably been asked this many times, but I’d actually love to hear your scaling or non-scaling strategy. Why haven’t you hired more? Do you actually plan in the new year to hire somebody else?

Claire: I love it Amir. You’re asking me questions on my own show. Growth is an interesting thing. There’s growth by head count, there’s growth by impact. For me, the thing that I’ve always been interested in is how can we help as many people as possible with being as simple and straightforward as an organization as possible. That’s the first thing that I’ve always thought about. Then the second thing that I’ve always thought about is I’ve always tried to be very honest with myself about what I actually like to do.

It’s funny, because as a profession, I think on leadership, study leadership, talk to leaders 24/7. I don’t really like leading tons of people, if that makes sense. The idea of running a 100 person, 300 person, 1,000 person company, maybe I could do it, but it really wouldn’t be that fun. I think about that a lot, and I try to be very honest with myself of, “Ooh, it’s tempting to hire more people, but Claire, is that actually what you want to focus on doing?” That’s the second thing I think about.

Then I think the third thing that influences me strongly is because I have this and am in this amazing position where I get to talk to CEOs of companies of all sizes, and get to almost peek inside their day. I have a pretty good sense of what I would like in my day to day. I talk to the CEOs that run billion dollar companies that have thousands of people, and I talk to entrepreneurs who bootstrap their company, and it’s 100 people, the whole range. Trying to understand like, what would I really enjoy?

I think what it all comes down to, if you mix all those influences, is again, just really being, you talk about motivation, wanting to have impact with reducing the complexity of the business itself. Here’s the issue that comes with that, is there are definitely constraints. It means that, oh my gosh, Daniel and I, my CTO, there’s so much that we wish we could do and that we’re not doing, or that we don’t feel like we’re moving fast enough and that we’re not. In the past year, what we noticed was, and folks who had been following along, know this as well, is that we noticed a change in our audience as well, and this mismatch with our audience and our product.

After figuring that out, and now looking to the new year, figuring out, “Oh, well I think we now have this really …” I think we’re really finally nailing what we want to offer people and who is actually now listening to us. Maybe it will make sense to hire more people. We’ll see. I always keep my options open for, “Oh, does that mean raise more money?” or raising any money, because we haven’t ever. Does that mean taking out a bank loan? What does that exactly mean? I’m not 100% sure. It’s still actually a little bit early for us to say.

Hopefully that peels back the curtain a little bit, Amir, on my thinking. I think the long story short, because that was very ramble-y, is I have the luxury to peek ahead into all these CEOs who are running companies many steps ahead of mine and just really being honest with myself of, “What kind of company do I want to build? What’s actually fun for me and what’s motivating for me?”

Amir: That makes so much sense. The thing is, there’s a saying, more people more problems.

Claire: Totally.

Amir: Yeah.

Claire: It’s interesting. When I do talk to founders Amir, sometimes I express, “Oh, you know, I do wish we were moving faster on some of this stuff,” and blah blah blah. I remember, I was sitting down with one founder who was like, “Claire, you are two people. You are profitable. You have happy customers. Your product’s awesome. It’s kind of as good as it gets. The minute you start getting any bigger than you are, it just isn’t as fun. It gets more complicated. Right where you are is actually the most fun I ever had running my business. I think if you talk to a lot of founders, it’s the really fun time.” I was like, “Oh!” That’s helpful to hear from someone who’s been through it before.

Amir: Yeah. I think definitely adding people, and this like obsession with head count, if somebody asks you how big is your company, it’s like head count. We can be 1000 people, but maybe it can have no impact or very little impact, and you can be maybe five people and have an amazing impact. I think there’s a vanity metric there, that we need to remove and just focus on impact, but I’m actually unsure how we should measure impact. That’s the problem.

Claire: Totally. I know, and it’s completely subjective. I think for me, my self-check, Amir, is always like, do I want to do this, this idea of growing the business, whatever that means in terms of headcount and impact? Do I want to do it because it makes me feel good to post about it on Twitter and it makes me feel good to tell my friends who are also running companies. “Oh yeah, we hired this person,” or, “Oh, our blog got viewed by this many people,” or, “Oh, this is our revenue.” 

All these, like you said, a lot of vanity metrics, when really for me, what’s most interesting is that I’m making a tangible difference in someone’s actual day to day. How that’s quantified in terms of a number, kind of hard. The most rewarding things are, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, when I get an email from someone who says, “Claire, the leadership training that you gave was hands down the best leadership training I’ve ever had,” or, “This product, Know Your Team, helped me learn something I had no idea about and we saved someone from leaving the company because of it.” 

It’s those, “This blog post Claire, all this totally changed my leadership philosophy.” I just think those are the moments for me where I’m like, “Ah, we have to replicate that,” more than is it exciting to say, “Oh, we hit certain revenue numbers,” which was always great. I’m a fan of money, no worries there, or hiring people. Always you had, for me at least, a self-check of, “Why?”

Amir: Yeah. I think also something that are very problematic. It’s like as you scale and add people, you get these inflection points where things just break, because the complexity becomes too big. Then you need to resolve that, and we have been through multiple of these, and they are very problematic and very energy consuming. I think it’s also, if you can actually stay relatively small.

The thing is, small teams, of instance, Apple’s industrial design team I think, they are on to 20 people, and they have various products and they have changed the world.

Claire: Right.

Amir: I don’t think they would be more productive or more impactful if they had 1000 people working there. That’s also something that we think a lot about. It’s finding the right combination of people, I mean the right people, instead of just adding a lot of them.

Claire: Absolutely. Well then on that note, I have one last question for you Amir, because I can sit here and talk to you for hours about this. On this note about finding the right people, I think one of the most common questions that I get and that a lot of founders discuss amongst themselves is hiring. I know we could probably go really deep on this also and have a whole separate podcast session on just hiring, but you’ve brought it a few times too, it’s importance as the company grows. For you, if you could sum up how you think about hiring the best people, what you look for, what advice would you share for folks who are watching this, about, “Okay, so you have to hire someone. Here’s some things to think about that most people don’t tell you.”

Amir: Yeah. That can tell you what, for me, is a very, very important thing. I think it’s personal projects or the day they actually created something themselves. We have a very, very huge correlation between people that have really been good at their job and have created something themselves.

I think if I look somebody’s resume, and they have only worked for other companies and there’s zero initiative on starting something themselves, so having a side project, something like that, then that’s a huge red flag for me. For me personally, I think that shows that that person is really passionate about something. 

A lot of times, for instance, they can maybe have an open source project they work on during the weekend through the night or whatever. That shows you they do enjoy the work so much that they would work for free and do your spot of like a community at work. Before I founded all this, even right now, I have open source projects that I do on the side, because I actually love to develop. For me, this passion for the job is very, very important. Same with these designers, and even migrating people. For instance, if they are really good at marketing they’re already hang out on ProductHunt and be part of that community there, or something like that.

Claire: Right, have a blog on the side.

Amir: Yeah, exactly. Of course, you can still go out. We have eyes on people that have been amazing and they just didn’t have any personal projects.

Claire: Sure.

Amir: It’s like, you can have a dark horse, but there’s just this huge correlation. Whenever I see somebody that has done something themselves, it’s just like yeah, I feel good about this person. Yeah.

Claire: Totally. I think to your point, it hints at the deeper motivation for why people do it, right? It’s not because I’m getting paid to, but maybe because I actually enjoy it or increases my learning. I think that is invaluable advice Amir. Thank you so much for all of your insights. I learned so much. I actually also enjoyed getting asked questions, finally. That’s actually a really nice change. I know everyone who’s watching this really appreciates all your wisdom as well. Thank you.

Amir: Thank you Claire. Best of luck also with the new product and rebranding. I’m actually unsure how you can do all of that with two persons, again. We need to do a session about personal productivity. I’ll say, write a post about it. I would love to read that part actually.

Claire: I’ll think about it, yeah. I appreciate the suggestion. No, it’s good to know people are interested. Thank you so much again Amir, talk to you soon.

Amir: Bye-bye Claire.

Enjoy this interview with Amir? Check out all our Heartbeat interviews with leaders…

The most counterintuitive leadership tip? Leaders, stop doing what you’re good at.

Playing to your strengths as a leader doesn’t make you a good boss – in fact, it can make you a bad boss. Here’s why.

Of all the tips to be a good manager, “leaning into your strengths” has got to be one of the most frequently cited.

“Do what you’re good at. Focus on your strengths.” That’s the conventional advice we all receive. There’s no shortage of StrengthsFinders assessments and personality tests urging us to triangulate which strengths we should zoom in on.

However, I recently had a conversation with Peldi Guilizzoni, CEO of Balsamiq. His insight on this topic turned my head sideways… in a good way. Peldi asserted:

“Doing what you’re good at hurts the team.”

Huh? Let me explain.

Peldi admitted to me that he’s good at getting stuff done. He makes things happen. He thinks he’s killing it. But as a CEO, 10 years in, should he really the one doing all the doing?

After a decade running his business, Peldi noticed he’d created an environment where his coworkers were depending on him to get things done. If he takes a vacation – he leaves them hanging. If he has to be out for a week – they’re stuck.

Peldi conceded:

“What I realized is that I should stop myself from doing things I’m good at  —  which is so counterintuitive  —  and instead, focus on delegating training and making sure that everybody gets good at doing those things.”

Doing what he was good at was hurting his team, not helping.

I could relate.

I’m good at communicating. So I do it internally. A lot. I write-up about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, a new approach I’m thinking about, a new concept we should try… But, when I take a step back, it’s a bit too much. We’re a tiny, two-person company. For our size, all that communicating is overkill. I could easily spend some of that same time somewhere else in the business and have it be more meaningful.

For both Peldi and I, our predisposition became a preoccupation. We’re good at it, so we automatically assumed it was good for our team.

Whenever you’re good at something, you don’t objectively assess its effectiveness as you should. You apply less of a discerning eye. You know you’re good at it, so you figure the more you do of it, the better.

But as with anything, repeated actions without rigorous judgment become lazy and reckless. And naturally, they have unintended consequences.

Now avoiding this pitfall is hard.

No one is going to stop you. Rarely do others have the temerity to stay, “What you’re good at is bad for the team.” Plus, doing what you’re good at is fun. It’s inherently satisfying to flex your strengths. Who wants to not feel that way?

So, you have to ask yourself: Are your actions feeding your team, or your ego?

Focus on what you’re good at, and the team never becomes good at it themselves. Focus on what you’re good at, and you never see things for what they really are.

Resist viewing your strengths as the only way to make the team strong. Resist falling in love with the short-term results of doing what feels good to be doing.

Pause. Don’t be so busy. Take stock. Why are you doing those things? Because you like doing them? Because you’re good at them? Or because it’s the best way to move the team forward?

Find someone who will tell you the truth. Your co-founder, your coworkers. Ask them if what you’re doing that you’re good at is really helping move the team forward.

This truth-seeking takes 10 minutes to do. Start today. And stop doing what you’re good at, all the time.

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

New managers, here’s how to run your first team meeting

How to approach your first meeting as a new manager (it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it feels!)

It happened: You’re a new manager now. Perhaps, it’s the first time you’re leading a team. Or you’re taking over a new team as a manager. Either way, that first meeting as a new manager is a daunting event. What should the agenda for that first meeting with the new team be? How should you set expectations as a new manager? Should you make prepare some sort of “new manager introduction speech”?

First impressions are often lasting ones. And there’s no better time and place to solidify that impression than the first meeting with your entire team.

Whether you’re taking over a brand new team, or you’re a first-time manager, here’s how to approach that first meeting. I’ll walk through what you should be thinking about, some things you can say, and some questions you can ask…

Build trust, don’t chart a vision (yet).

The goal of this initial meeting with your new team isn’t to map out the vision for the next nine months or declare your mandate for change. You’ll have the space (and greater knowledge) to do both in the coming weeks. This first meeting is to establish trust and set the tone for the kind of team environment you wish to foster.

Specifically, as a new leader, you’ll want to internalize these goals for your first meeting:

  • Show you’re worthy of your team’s trust
  • Show that you’re humble and ready to learn
  • Show that you’re intention is that you want to help

This may feel like a passive approach to your new leadership role at first. But keep in mind this one truth: You’re new. And your team will be skeptical of you (rightfully so). So, as tempting as it might be to come into a new team situation and project confidence, certainty, and a sense of direction — know that it will only be seen positively by your team if they trust you. Without trust, your confidence will seem arrogant, your certainty will seem oblivious, and your sense of direction will seem misguided. Nothing moves forward without trust.

How can you build trust within this first meeting? Read on…

Get to know your team members — and take notes.

This may be one of the most over-looked aspects for new managers: Getting to know their team members, personally. Icebreakers can feel forced and trite — but I encourage you to spend some time in your first meeting asking at least a few get-to-know-you-questions to the group. (Here are the 25 best icebreaker questions we’ve found to work well, based on four years of data.) Take notes. Think about how you can incorporate their answers in future interactions, events, etc. For example, someone’s favorite food is ice cream? Consider bringing in ice cream to celebrate their birthday or work anniversary.

Share who you are, more than surface-level stuff.

This isn’t about touting your accomplishments and expertise (though, of course, you can share those things in this first meeting if it feels right). Rather, when introducing yourself to the team, it’s a chance to expose who you really are — what motivates you, inspires you, and brings you fulfillment. The more your team knows of the real you, the more likely they are to trust you.

How to do this? Share your leadership philosophy: What do you see as the purpose of a manager? What do you value? Who do you look up to? What drew you to the organization? Share your intentions: That you are here to help, to help them do the best work of their careers, to get out of their way and support them to accomplish something greater. Share your personal interests: What do you like doing in your free time? What social causes or nonprofits do you support? Be mindful to make sure you don’t spend more than 25% of the meeting, tops, talking about yourself. In building trust, the last thing you want to do is come across as self-absorbed.

Make it clear that you’re in “learning mode.”

If you want to build trust as a leader, you have to be vulnerable. You should let your team know that you don’t have all the answers and you have much to learn. This is one of the hardest parts of being a leader. As leaders, it feels like we’re supposed to have all the answers. Admitting that we don’t can feel like a blow to our sense of self. Yet exposing this vulnerability helps build trust in a team — it shows you’re humble, fallible, and human like the rest of us.

To do this, try saying something like this: “I am the new person here, and so all of you in this room know more than me. You carry with you insights and experiences that I don’t have. I am sponge, and I am to learn from all of you.” No need to beat yourself up and say that you’re ignorant, by any means. Essentially, you are saying that you’re “in learning mode” as a new leader. A learning mindset is one of the greatest ways to show vulnerability, and build trust with your team.

Ask 2–4 probing, thoughtful questions.

The majority of your first meeting as a new manager should be spent asking a few key questions to your team as a group. I’d also strongly recommend setting up separate one-on-one time with each individual employee before or after the first team meeting to further learn what’s on their mind (whichever is most appropriate).

Here are some ideas for questions you can ask…

  • What do you want to change in this team?
  • What do you not want to change in this team?
  • What’s typically been taboo to talk about in the past? What have you been nervous to bring up?
  • What looming concerns or apprehension might you have?
  • What’s been the most frustrating thing to have encountered with the team lately?
  • Where do you see the biggest opportunity for improvement with the team?
  • How do you prefer to receive feedback? (Verbal, written, in-person)? How do you prefer to give feedback? (Verbal, written, in-person)?
  • What’s been the most motivating project you’ve worked on all year? With whom? And why?
  • What excites and energizes you about the company?
  • What are you most grateful for in being a part of this company?
  • What do you think has been a big obstacle to progress?
  • What do you wish was communicated to you more often?
  • When have you felt micromanaged? When have you felt like you’ve needed more support?
  • Who’s the best boss you’ve ever had and why? The worst boss you’ve ever had and why?
  • What was the best team experience for you? The worst team experience?
  • How do you like to be shown gratitude?
  • How often would you like to set up a standing one-on-one or check- in meeting? Every week? Biweekly? Once a month? Once a quarter?

If this list of questions overwhelms you, remember, you only need to pick two to four of these questions for the all-team meeting. Save the rest for your one-on-one followup conversations.

As you listen to the answers, there are a few things to pay particularly close attention to:

  • Listen for the things you can fix, solve, and knock out quickly. Is there a project that is deadweight? Is there a useless policy that’s slowing people down? The best way to build trust with your new team and show that you’re here to help is to actually help.
  • Listen for what people view as “success” and progress, and consider how you’re going to define and measure that. As a leader, one of your primary jobs will be to say what “success” is, and how well the team is doing to get there.
  • Listen for what people’s communication needs are. What do they feel “in the dark” about? How might people prefer you sharing what’s going on? How regularly will you need to set up touch points with team members?

Be proactive in your next steps

As you wrap up your meeting, one of the worst things you can say as a new manager is this: “Feel free to stop by my office if you need anything.” Don’t say that. Why? You’re implying that if they have questions or concerns, they have to come to you. The burden is on them, not you. Instead, try saying: “In the next __ days, I’ll be setting up a time to meet with each of you. From there, based on your preferences, we can set a standing one-on-one time. In the meantime, if you want to meet anytime sooner, grab me in the hall, send me an email — I’d love to sit down sooner.” There’s a huge difference between the two statements. One is reactive and sounds lazy (the former), while the other sounds proactive and that you want to help (the latter). A strong way to end your first meeting is to show that you’re willing to come to them — that you won’t be waiting for them to bring up issues. You want to show as much proactiveness as possible.

Be prepared for tough questions

Note that you may get asked questions during your meeting such as, “What do you think you’ll change?” and “What do you see as the vision for the team?” Some might be tough to answer, especially with you being new. Be prepared to answer them honestly — and with a good dose of humility. There is much for your to learn. This is only Day 1, and the more you can level with your team that you’re here to learn from them about what the direction or what those changes should be, the better. You’re here to listen and to serve.

This is by no means comprehensive. Every team is different — from who managed the team before you, to the interpersonal dynamics at play, to the challenges that they’re facing with their work. You’ll likely need to tweak some of the question suggestions I offered, or some of the phrases I recommended. Regardless, I hope at the very least these tips give you a framework to start planning your first meeting as a new manager, and kick things off on the right foot.

Best of luck to you!


P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😄 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew).