The Secret to Small Business Success with Less Effort

Mike Kotsis Uncategorized Leave a Comment

businessman leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head

Annual planning season is upon us. This is the time of year that many of my clients have their two-day offsite annual planning sessions. It’s their opportunity to reflect on last year’s successes and misses, as well as getting clear on where to focus their time, energy, and resources over the coming year.

In a recent annual planning session with a financial services company, the six-person leadership team had an a-ha moment. They are all very polite, friendly people who are hard workers, but they didn’t fully trust each other. They trusted each other to do their jobs and get stuff done, but they didn’t have a vulnerability-based trust. What does this mean?

The secret ingredient to a successful company is vulnerability-based trust.

Why Your Company Needs Vulnerability-Based Trust

Patrick Lencioni does an amazing job teaching the topic of team health and vulnerability-based trust in his book The Five Dysfuctions of a Team. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

In his book, Lencioni walks through the following five areas of team dynamics. He lists the areas as a hierarchy, with trust at the foundation and results at the top of the hierarchy.

  • Trust—Teams with trust are completely open honest and vulnerable with one another. They’re comfortable letting their guard down and being themselves around one another.
  • Conflict—When they have a high level of trust, leadership teams can have it out about any and all issues, always going deep on the real issues. With real conflict, that’s always about the issue and it’s never personal.
  • Commitment—With commitment, healthy conflict leads to decisions. Even if everyone doesn’t agree with the decision, they can all live with it, because they’ve all been heard.
  • Accountability—When a team is committed to a decision, a deal is a deal. If someone doesn’t follow through, they call each other out, holding each other accountable.
  • Results—When a team has all four elements that are strong, the team generates better results with less effort.

I had my client’s team rate how they felt the leadership team was doing in each of the five areas. The team averages were placed in red on the board—1 was weak and 10 was strong. The surprising part of the exercise were the extreme ranges on the Trust and Conflict categories.

trust pyramid on a whiteboard


The person who rated it a 10 thought they had good healthy conflict about anything and everything. This was the owner. The person who rated it a 4 felt that even though the owner was open to hearing other perspectives, the other perspectives were never truly considered—especially if he had his mind made up already.


The person who rated it a 9 felt that they all trust each other and don’t’ have any “guards” up. There were a couple people who rated it a 4. They felt that two people on the team would always take things personally and thus would very rarely express their true perspective on a topic for fear of being ridiculed.

Finding Trust As a Team

The tension-filled discussion that followed helped the team of six to slow down and have a much-needed discussion that had never happened before in the company’s history. Tension in the room filled the air and emotions rose to new heights—but this is exactly what the team needed in order to learn how actions, behaviors, and words affect one another.

This discussion, followed by two trust building exercises, effectively brought the team much closer together.

Vulnerable Trust Makes Business Success Easier

At the conclusion of the discussion, the team realized that even though they were getting decent results, it was taking them way too much effort to get those results because of the low levels of trust and conflict. They can now see that by improving vulnerability-based trust, it takes significantly less effort to generate higher and better results for the company.

Try the same exercise with your leadership team—read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and rate how your team is doing on each level. Then watch this TedX Talk by Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability. Also check out this video by Patrick Lencioni on vulnerability-based trust.

Want help improving your team’s health? Contact me for a free 90-Minute Meeting.

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