By Dave Butler

Trust is, without a doubt, the most important thing for a team to function at a high level. If trust does not exist within (and between) teams at an organization, you end up with a bunch of individuals working independently and no chance of the sum being greater than the parts. With this in mind, every quarter, I gather NeoNova’s Sales and Marketing team at our Raleigh offices. There we catch up, train and reinforce our knowledge of important concepts. In one of our recent quarterly meetings, one of the significant concepts we covered was trust.

We conducted a simple exercise to demonstrate its importance. The results were really interesting and surprising to many on the team. The exercise was simple: I set up a cardboard box and turned it on its side so the room could not see inside of it. Inside, I hid a LEGO structure (small but approximately 100 pieces and hard to replicate easily). We then divided up the room into three teams of four and I handed each a folded slip of paper assigning them a role: either Runner (3 per team) or Builder (1 per team). Runners would have the responsibility to look at the LEGO structure inside the box and communicate what they saw to the Builder, who then tried to recreate it using an identical (but disassembled) LEGO kit.

Now, here’s where it got interesting. Prior to starting, the teams were also informed that one or more people might be designated a Distorter along with their role of Runner or Builder. A Distorter’s job was to SECRETLY obstruct the teams from completing their objectives. It was important that they do so without getting caught. With everyone’s roles established, the group was given 15 minutes to attempt to recreate the structure as best as possible. Then, we reconvened and compared LEGO kits to see who came closest to recreating the original structure.

The stated goal was to build the closest model to what was built behind the box. The real goal of the exercise, of course, revolved around the secretly placed Distorter(s). Their purpose was to disrupt the process and guide the team away from the objective, but without being identified as Distorters by the rest of the team. My job was to observe the exercise and take notes, and I definitely observed some interesting interactions.

The amount of mental activity NOT focused on actual task was significant. People were quick to point fingers and judge their teammates as soon as any confusion arose and as the time wound down and stress levels went up. My notes included quotes I heard and observations of folks who were not focused on the task. I saw that any little hiccup would lead to immense amounts of conflict and an immediate lack of trust.

At the end of the exercise, we had some fun comparing the work the teams did to the original; there were lots of laughs. The teams were then given several instructions:

1. Raise your hand if you think there was at least 1 distorter on your team
11 of 12 participants raised their hand

2. Raise your hand if you think there was more than one distorter on your team
7 of 12 hands remained raised

3. Point to those you think were distorters
This one was especially funny as two folks actually pointed both hands and a foot to indicate all three of their teammates. Also, several folks both pointed at others and were in turn pointed at themselves.

4. Stand up if you were a distorter

The kicker? There was only ONE Distorter among all three groups. So two of the three teams were all trying their absolute best to solve the problem, but the introduction of a POTENTIAL distorter created significant amounts of distrust. As expected, the exercise showed how easily mistrust can creep in and sabotage a team’s best efforts.

With the types of services we provide here at NeoNova, our teams need to work closely together to put us in a position to best serve our Affiliates and their end users. These teams include a variety of people with a variety of responsibilities: technical folks, salespeople, customer service teams, project management, and their respective leadership resources. Although each person and each team may look at a task or challenge with a slightly different perspective, they all need to pull the oars in the same direction for the boat to move efficiently.

At the end of the day, we learned that one of NeoNova’s strengths is the trust that each and every one of us has in our teammates. We know the folks alongside us are some of the best in the business, and we’re all working together to put our Affiliates’ interests first, always.

If you would like to run a similar exercise to show your own team the importance of trust, feel free to call or email me at or 919-612-1843.

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