Archived Story

Richard Weigel: Trust as a foundation

Published 11:01pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011

During the past year the leadership team at Niles Community Schools has been working from the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. Why? Because when you build a great team, you “get great results.” Everybody wants to be part of a winning team and that is our intent for helping the children of Niles Community Schools.
According to Lencioni, there are five common pitfalls that make up a team’s dysfunction. Each of these dysfunctions build from one another and can either halt the move to success or by overcoming them, propel a team to great achievements.
The five dysfunctions are:
1. Absence of Trust
2. Fear of Conflict
3. Lack of Commitment
4. Avoidance of Accountability
5. Inattention to Results
This short article is not intended to be a book report so if you Google the book there are many good articles to read — or simply get the book and read it yourself.
Instead, I would like to focus on the first dysfunction — the absence of trust. Trust is the foundation for real team work. The absence of trust stems from team members’ unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. A high performing team needs its members to be open (vulnerable) about their successes and failures and their strengths and weaknesses in order to build a foundation for trust. This is about disclosure and not about confession. When team members are vulnerable with each other and not trying to guard or protect themselves, then the focus can rest with getting the job done. In our schools, the job is summed up in our vision statement: “Niles Community Students — Inspired Locally to Excel Globally.”
As a team of school leaders, we have worked on this concept and we continue to work on all five of these dysfunctions in order to be our best for the school district, the community and the students we serve.
Branching out from the leadership team to build trust throughout the entire organization and the community is another key piece of our intent. Low-trust cultures do not have the capacity to engage in the great effort and difficult work of improvement. High-trust cultures make the extraordinary possible, energize people and give them the wherewithal to succeed under enormously demanding conditions — and the confidence that staying the course will pay off.
Change reveals differences in people. District-wide change is complex and involves many levels and people. It can produce more questions and even disagreements. Successful districts must engage in a difficult balancing of communication, education and even conflict. Yet, when you go back to the dysfunctions of a team — the second dysfunction is conflict. That means that not everyone sees things the same way. This can be good for helping a system to transform from where it is to where it wants to be.
While building trust or engaging in conflict, the key is to be inflexible on the vision for all (not some) of our children and the education that we must provide so they can be successful throughout their lives. Our vision must be based on our moral purpose for educating children.
Successful organizations explicitly value differences and do not panic when things go wrong. Successful districts are collaborative, but they are not always congenial and consensual. Working in a high-trust yet demanding culture, participants view disagreement as a normal part of change and are able to value and work through differences.
When we train our staff in the concept of Professional Learning Communities ( we show them that the people who do not like the concept of collaboration and trust are those who must win at all costs — individuals who engender distrust so they can get their way. So developing trust becomes harder especially when the focus is taken off the needs of all the children. That is unhealthy.
School districts across the state are all hurting financially just as are other businesses and too many people in our communities. Schools are a reflection of our society and the issues we see at the national or state level come home to roost and are then experienced at a local level. I believe that we cannot spend our way out of debt. I also believe that education should be a greater priority of funding from our government. Yet, I also recognize the need to tighten our belt in times like these. So by building a system of trust within our community with a clear focus on our children we will weather this storm. The volunteers who have been helping at Eastside Connections School are a testimony to that concept.
It may not always be easy, but we should all work to “assume best intentions” with others. Trust should be built on the idea that we want what is best for our children. That is the heart and soul of why our schools exist.
To build trust with our community, all of our financial records are posted on our district’s website. This provides a picture of revenue, expenditures, contracts, salaries, etc. We are also putting our curriculum on the website. That transparency should help to dispel rumors or those who want to engender distrust. Establishing trust is rewarded with what Stephen Covey calls “the speed of trust.” To do that we should engage in the dialogue and collaboration that moves us forward. Our school leaders will work with anyone who asks for information to build our “speed of trust” in our community. Covey also said, “While we tend to judge ourselves by our intent, we tend to judge others by their behavior … it is important to actively influence the conclusions others draw by ‘declaring our intent.’”
It is the intent of Niles Community Schools to serve all the children of the Niles community and we believe that together we can “Build A Foundation For Our Future.”

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