Want to Build a High-Performance Team? Start with Trust.
Right from the start, we thought if we could create the category of B2B ecommerce, Ariba could be a rocket ship. But, one quarter, early on, some big deals got delayed, and our team started getting anxious. Instead of working together to come up with solutions, everyone started pulling in different directions. To me, this pressure situation was a clear symptom of a lack of trust, and I knew we needed to do something about it.
Why is trust so important?
Without trust, your "team" isn't really a team at all. You might have some great performers, but if they're working at cross purposes, you'll never win. Customers can see if you're not pulling together, too. When they don't see trust and teamwork in your organization, you can bet they're not going to be your customer very long.
Many companies struggle with this. Ernst & Young recently conducted an international survey on trust and found that globally, less than half of workers say they have "a great deal of trust" in employers, bosses or colleagues.
Building a culture of trust
Our "crazy quarter" at Ariba reminded me that we needed to build a culture of trust if we were ever going to succeed. To do that, we needed to go back to the fundamentals of our company "playbook." It included our values, and a set of "team rules" that governed how we worked together and treated each other. Of course, you can't dictate a set of values and rules to your team. At Ariba, I worked with our leadership to create a list of core values that we all agreed on. They included Integrity, Respect and Courage. Your values might be different, but these were bedrock for us.
As an individual, integrity defines your character. It determines your values, your morals, your honesty. Integrity defines your company in the same way. It's interesting to note that in the Ernst & Young study, the No. 1 factor that influenced a high level of trust in companies was integrity -- being honest and doing what you say you're going to do.
At Ariba, we had a very diverse team. I'm convinced that bringing groups together with different temperaments, talents and convictions is the catalyst for genius. How do you do it? In a word, respect. According to that Ernst & Young survey, the No. 1 factor that influenced a high level of trust among immediate bosses and colleagues was being treated with respect.
No matter what your company does, it takes courage to run a business, and you need to encourage risk-taking in others to make your company fly. For that, you've got to create a safe environment. At Ariba we tested new ideas all the time. If they worked out, we would augment or duplicate them. If they didn't work out, we didn't chop anyone's head off. We'd try again or try a different approach. Most importantly, we learned from it. We rewarded risk-taking, and it paid off all the time.
Translating values to behaviors
So, how do you translate these values into behavior? At Ariba, and at every other company I've helped build, we always had a set of team rules in the playbook, driven by our values, that governed our day-to-day actions. Here are the ones that most directly influenced the way we worked together as a team:
Team rule No. 1: Always practice direct, open and honest communication.
When Ariba was small, we had roundtable discussions every Friday, and everyone had a chance to talk with no interruption. At our meetings, you either got something off your chest or you were inspired by something someone else said. It wasn't just the CEO or the management saying "wah, wah, wah," like the adults in a Peanuts cartoon. It was a real discussion, a sharing of feelings and ideas, with the kind of passion that left us all fired up.
Team rule No. 2: No idea is a dumb idea (unless it's the CEO's).
If you've hired the right team, you have a bright, creative bunch with some unique ways of thinking. Some ideas might sound unusual, but they could unexpectedly spawn a positive outcome or inspire a brilliant idea in someone else. The team rule "no idea is a dumb idea" meant it was never OK to come down on somebody for any idea, no matter how "out there" it sounded. The corollary "unless it's the CEO's" was my way of letting everyone else know there was nothing sacred about my opinions. Plus, it's fun to mock out the CEO.
Team rule No. 3: We're a team first, functional specialists second.
We made it clear to everyone at Ariba that their first priority at work was to think in terms of the team, not the individual. In other words, think with your CEO hat on. It didn't matter whether you were a sales guy, an engineer or whatever -- the team came first. Our celebrations and recognition reinforced this idea of teamwork. We rewarded people for enabling the team to succeed -- not for seeking glory as individuals.
Making it a way of life
An offsite with your leadership team might be a good way to kick things off. You could start the conversation with values and team rules. Have an open discussion about what's working and not working in your company. If you have the courage, invite your team to have an open discussion about your own strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you listen and learn from what you hear.
But, one offsite or even a set of meetings isn't going to change your culture overnight. The good news is that open, honest conversations don't have to be intricately planned or formal. The roundtable discussions we had at Ariba were a magical thing I will always cherish.
Where does this lead?
With Ariba working as a high perfomance team, our revenue doubled every quarter for our first 12 quarters. Today, $1.3 trillion of commerce goes through the Ariba platform every year. I believe much of our success is because we fostered a culture where everyone can be honest, where they can trust their leadership and peers and know their input will be listened to. This makes for a high-performance team. And high performance teams win.