the ceo magazine, manage teams,
Linda Adams, Partner, The Trispective Group

Have you ever grabbed a coffee with a friend and listened to her rave about her colleagues, and then wondered what you would say when she asks you how things are going with your job? Ever looked around your own organization and wondered why some teams work so well together when yours seems to struggle every day? Good teams don’t just happen by accident. Great teams share a set of identifiable and replicable traits and characteristics. On the most effective teams, people are loyal to one another, the team, and the larger organization. People share information, resources and a commitment to put the team agenda ahead of any individual agenda. These are called “Loyalist Teams.”

When my partners and I introduce the concept of a Loyalist Team and all the advantages it brings, we almost always get asked, “How long does it take to build a Loyalist Team?” When we try to impress the speed with which we believe a Loyalist Team can be built, people tend to not believe us and we hear things like, “It must take time.” “People have to get to know each other.” “Trust has to be earned.” All of those are true, if that’s what you choose to believe and how you choose to operate. But I know a Loyalist Team can be formed in an instant.

I once had the privilege to serve on a team pulled together to conduct an audit of a client’s facility after they had received some challenging feedback from their government oversight group. The team was made up of seven people, some who knew each other but most who did not. I was definitely the outsider. I wasn’t from within the industry. I was an HR practitioner; the others were Engineers. I was the only female. And five of the seven shared a Military background, which I didn’t have. I was assigned to the team, not chosen by the leader. From the start, it seemed like a recipe for a long time for people to get to know each other and build trust. The challenge was we didn’t have time. We had two weeks to produce our findings.

The team leader did one of the most effective jobs I have ever seen. He called me before the assignment started, introduced himself and asked me why I thought I had been selected and how I thought I would bring value to the team. When we all met for the first time he laid out our challenge, how he expected us to behave and engage with each other and what was and what was not acceptable in terms of commitment and performance.

From an ego perspective it was a pretty tough two weeks. Feedback came thick and fast. There wasn’t time to beat around the bush AND to ensure we produced a quality result. We were totally dependent upon each other to complete our part in order to deliver the final report. We respected one another’s expertise, yet we challenged each other at every turn until we all could agree and sign off on each other’s work. We produced our report in the time frame required and it was sound and actionable.

Research would indicate that up to 4% of the US population might be sociopathic – scary huh? But that means 96% are not. We tend to approach new people and new situations in our lives as if they are the 4%. What would happen if you followed the eight tips below and assumed our colleagues were the 96%? How quickly might you build your Loyalist Team? Here’s where to start:

  1. Extend trust – rather than wait for people to earn it, assume the best in others. In life we often believe that trust has to be earned but that takes time. A lot of time. Most people are generally trustworthy. Why wait to see what people can prove by way of earning your trust? Your collective futures are tied together on this team. It will benefit everyone to move quickly in extending trust to each other.
  2. Assume positive intent – when you disagree or don’t understand someone’s action don’t jump to the negative. We have a tendency that when things don’t go the way WE think they should to assume something bad just happened. We assume negative intent. From as simple as holding the door open for someone and they walk through without acknowledging you to a colleague surprising you by disagreeing with you in front of the boss when you thought you had agreement. Assuming negative intent has you believing your colleague is out to make you look bad in front of the boss. Assuming positive intent allows you to be curious about what might have changed that you don’t understand. Without that you’ll tend to dig in, fight to protect your position and perhaps miss some valuable new information.
  3. Commit to a larger agenda – put aside personal or functional agendas and commit to the larger goal.When we focus on self-first it makes it tough for other to rally around. When the boss demands loyalty to him, it’s tough to disagree or challenge. When we are all focused on the larger agenda, personal goals and egos are set aside and we can all focus on bringing our best to the business.
  4. Pull your own weight – do what is expected of you. On a Loyalist Team your colleagues will rally around if you are struggling. Their commitment is to ensure that the team doesn’t fail. Your commitment has to be that you always contribute your best, deliver what is expected of you and be someone upon whom your colleagues can rely.
  5. Have each other’s backs – if a colleague is struggling don’t wait to be asked, offer help and don’t let anyone talk badly about a colleague. We often hesitate to lend a helping hand for fear of offending. We worry that the response might be, “You don’t think I have this?” So? What if the response is a grateful thanks? And it is so important to actively shut down gossip. Too often we stay silent when someone is being critical of a colleague. Know that your silence is taken as implicit agreement to what has just been said. Speak up!
  6. Ask for and provide feedback – it’s the only way we improve. Getting feedback can be tough but we need to hear it. Offering feedback that is unsolicited is even tougher. Yet on Loyalist Teams one of the defining characteristics is the ability to give and receive feedback. Make it easier for others to give you feedback by asking for it and model the behavior you are looking for by offering feedback too. P.S. not all feedback has to be critical.
  7. No undiscussables – put the real issues on the table. Sweeping issues under the rug and hoping that by ignoring an issue it will go away only ensures that at some point someone or the team will trip over the problem. By then it may be too late to address. There is no false harmony on Loyalist Teams. They relentlessly discuss the real issues. If you don’t, you run the risk of handicapping the team or worse of a competitor solving the issue before you do.
  8. Celebrate – find ways to have fun together. Life is too short for work to suck. We spend more time with the people with whom we work than with our close intimate friends and family. Why would you choose to spend all those hours in a place where you’re not enjoying yourself and with people you don’t like?

Building the team of your dreams does take time, but how you go about doing it can mean that time can be short or seem like forever. Talk with your colleagues about what having a Loyalist Team might mean. Be explicit and get agreement about what that will look like. These eight tips are a great place to start. Then go ahead and build that Loyalist Team because you and everybody deserve a great team.

About the Author

Linda Adams is a partner at The Trispective Group and the co-author with Audrey Epstein, Abby Curnow-Chavez and Rebecca Teasdale of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations. For more information, please visit,


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