The most valuable asset you have is the imagination of your workforce. There are two key ingredients that develop and deploy the full power of a team’s collective imagination: 1. time to think and 2. trust on the team.

What kills that creativity? What stops people from openly communicating, collaborating and creating together? What will keep the best ideas locked inside the imaginations of the people on your team, or worse, deploy their imaginations to undercut, undermine and obstruct the creative process?

Broken trust.

Broken trust erases the posture of openness in which creativity arises. Betrayal is a very powerful human experience. Many describe the experience of betrayal as worse than loss, because it involves the reordering of our sense of ourselves. When someone breaks our trust they also break inside of us the confidence we have in our relationships and our instincts about how and who to trust.

The implications for trust on teams therefore, is great.

When we create climates of trust we open another level of capacity, competence and creativity. And we also open the door for disappointment, resentment, hurt feelings, and broken trust, all of which, in the right combination, can leave a person or a team feeling betrayed.

Here is what you need to know.

It does not matter if betrayal or broken trust, deceit or deception were your intent. What matters is how you engage with your team once they have interpreted something negatively, and they are trying to make sense of it. It matters a great deal how you behave when people are trying to make sense of their experiences. This meaning-making time is where their beliefs are formed.

Here are some tips that can help you navigate the waters of broken trust on teams, so that you can repair relationships quickly and restore the team to its high-performing strength.

Once trust is broken, stay open!

Trust takes time to build and only a moment to eradicate. Here are some steps to take when miscommunication breaks down:

·       Quickly address and begin to repair broken trust when misunderstandings occur. It may be that both of you need a day to cool off and gain perspective, but don’t wait too long.

·       Communicate that you care. Apologize for the misunderstanding. “I am sorry,” goes a long way.  “I missed the communication on this and I am sorry.”

·       Make time to listen. Soon. Notice I did not say make time to talk. We must listen first to understand.

Some things to keep in mind:

·       Human beings make meaning out of the events in our lives. This is both a blessing and a curse. In her book, Rising Strong Berne Brown has a great phrase that can help us to begin sharing some of the hard things we are thinking about someone else. She invites us to begin the conversation with the phrase: “The story I am making up about this is…..” Somehow this phrase lets us share hard feelings more candidly, yet with a bit of kindness and humor. We allow the other person to have a better picture of what the situation really feels like. Sugar coating the truth doesn’t get us as far as candor does. I’ve tried it, and can assure you this phrase somehow allows and unlocks more candor, and releases us from a posture of judgment and defensiveness. Try it!

·       We judge ourselves by our intent and others by our experience. You may not have intended to lie, mislead, break trust, or betray your colleague, but those are words I often hear behind closed doors. They express how the other person interprets what has happened to them. Remember, it is their interpretation that is driving how they feel about and respond to you, not your intentions.

In short, once trust is broken, go carefully and swiftly to address it, otherwise the breach of trust grows swiftly. It takes much longer to break through hardened feelings that grow with time. Once a story has been written about why we did what we did, it becomes harder for us to challenge those stories by simply listening, caring and asking questions.

Yes, it can be very hard to listen to and acknowledge another person’s story about us, but when we do we are able to do something important with that other person. We can co-create a future together.

We do that by acknowledging and asking questions:

“Wow. I didn’t understand how this came across to you. [acknowledge]

That must have been very hard. I am sorry for that. [apologize]

I don’t want to come across that way again. What can I do differently in the future?” [ask]

What do you do when misunderstandings arise? When trust gets broken?

·       Stay open.

·       Listen.

·       Acknowledge that person’s real experience.

·       Apologize for the misunderstanding.

·       Ask, “What can we do differently together now?”

What comes to us on the other side of these hard experiences can actually be quite rewarding. Like the bones of the body that knit back together more strongly in the broken places, relationships that successfully navigate through misunderstandings and broken trust develop something beyond imagination and creativity, trust and collegiality.  They develop resilience, assurance, and strength.

Trust given is one thing. Trust tested and retained or even trust shattered and restored is another level of relationship entirely. And this is where the real promise and potential begins: on the other side of, “What happens when it breaks?” lies the question, “What is possible now?”  Often the answer is,“A great deal more than before.”


My husband is a fan of American Ninja Warrior.  We sit down one evening a week and watch people move through the incredibly difficult obstacle course that the show creates in cities around the country. It is amazing to watch as each contestant attempts to complete the course.

What wows me even more?  There is generally a contestant or two who nimbly flies through the course, balancing, swinging, climbing, and pulling with such agility, accuracy and speed that I am left speechless, pointing at the TV.  These people blow away the top score of the night by the time they reach the finish line.

Every contestant who completes the course has skills, strength, power, flexibility.

Those who win are also nimble.

Here is what I have noticed:  the most nimble often appear to be the most carefree.  There is a freedom to their movement:  less tension, more fluidity, more speed, and more accuracy.

What is the leadership lesson here?  

If there is one thing that will slow a person down, it is fear.  Scared people move more slowly.

I am not suggesting that methodical preparation and planning are not part of the process, they are.

What I am suggesting is that fear-based performance will usually not earn you a first place finish.

This is what happens on the teams I coach:  trust based teams are nimble whereas fear based teams are clenched, tightly wound, and controlled.  It is not as much fun to work on a fear based team.  It is a great deal of fun to work on and with a nimble team.  Game changing ideas come from nimble teams. Incremental change comes from fear-based teams.

Speed, accuracy and excellence take a nimble player:  someone who feels free to move, practice, learn, try and try again; someone who enjoys the work; someone who is having fun.

Another outcome of a nimble team: resilience.  They weather storms well.  Failure is part of the process, but focus and freedom rule the day.

Focus + Freedom = Nimbleness

Success in a changing world takes nimbleness in precisely the environment which makes a normal person nervous or afraid.

How do we face the challenge?

1.       Focus.  Focus on the Desired Outcome.  What do you want, what do you really want?  Why do you want it?  Focusing on the ultimate Desired Outcome provides focus to individuals and teams.  It gives people a common purpose and vision to pursue.

2.       Freedom.  This often means the leader needs to keep quiet while the team wrestles with HOW to achieve the Desired Outcome.  They need to be free to share bad ideas and good ones and wrestle with them until they find a path and a process that will get them quickly to where they want to be.

Where they ultimately want to be is on the other side of the obstacle course, with yet another great experience behind them, ready to go back to work and prepare for the next round of challenges.

In 2017, I plan to be nimble.  How about you? 


I recently had the occasion to reflect on a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, VA. Such a fascinating place where history comes alive. The Governor’s mansion regally watches over the colonial village, the gaol, the tavern and the Inn.

No internet, no cells phones, no TV, no radios, no cars, no nothing as we would describe it today. Yet the hallways and streets still echo with the words of the titans of our past. And their words help form our words. We in the Training, Coaching and Organizational Development profession take careful note of “words” and their meaning and their power.

Understanding the true meaning of what is being communicated was as important then as it is today. Here are some of the words and phrases from that space in time that we use without a “second thought.”

Old Colonial Sayings We Use Today:

Sleep tight – Before box springs were in use, old bed frames used rope pulled tightly between the frame rails to support a mattress. If the rope became loose, the mattress would sag making for uncomfortable sleeping. Tightening the ropes would help one get a good night sleep.

Getting your goat – This refers to an old English belief that keeping a goat in the barn would have a calming effect on the cows, hence producing more milk. When one wanted to antagonize/terrorize one’s enemy, you would abscond with their goat rendering their milk cows less- to non-productive.

Pull out all the stops – This phrase comes from the pipe organs in churches and classical music. Each pipe has a “stop” that acts as a baffle that controls the amount of airflow. The volume of the organ can be adjusted by adding or removing the stops. By pulling out all the stops, all pipes are playing at their loudest.

Get off your high horse – Military leaders, nobility etc. led parades on horseback, as a sign of their superiority and to increase their prominence. Thus to “get off your high horse” means you should lower the view of your own status and stop behaving arrogantly.

You have a screw loose –  As machines began to be used in the 1700’s, screws frequently loosened causing the machine to break down. If you are having a malfunction, you may have a screw loose as well.

Dressed to the nines – He looks like he purchased the best such as purchasing the best suit using nine yards of cloth to make it.

Take it with a grain of salt – Salt was thought to have healing properties and to be an antidote to poisons.

Let the cat out of the bagA dishonest farmer, claiming to be selling a young pig, might substitute a cat or some other valueless animal in a tied bag.

Cold shoulderWhen guests would over stay their welcome as house guests, the hosts would (instead of feeding them good, warm meals) serve their too-long staying guests the cold meat, thereby giving them the COLD SHOULDER.

So, “if you have to pull out all the stops, because somebody dressed to the nines with a screw loose doesn’t let the cat out of the bag, take everything with a grain of salt, sleep tight and don’t let anybody on their high horse give you the cold shoulder or get your goat” …