3 Ways To Build A Culture of Trust & Honest Feedback On Your Team

Image Credit: Pheul

Image Credit: Pheul

To get the most out of this post, you’ll want to go back and read 3 Reasons Why You Are Not Getting Honest Feedback & How To Fix It.

1.    Model it.

“We teach what we know but we reproduce who we are.”

If you are not currently reaping the benefits of honest feedback on your team, it’s time to begin sowing some courageous seeds of vulnerability.

Leaders initiate.

Leaders have to lead the way in modeling vulnerability.

It’s never easy, but it’s always necessary if you want to see this value grow in your culture.

After all, culture is your values visualized.

To build and reinforce culture, our teams need more than an encouraging message-they need an example and real-life model.   

Image Credit: Netflix

Image Credit: Netflix

Brene Brown has some really incredible teaching on this topic in her books, TedTalks and Netflix special.  

As the leader, you have to model vulnerability first. Once you initiate a pattern of consistent honesty, you will begin to reset the culture of your team.

It has to be modeled and duplicated, not demanded.

Any leader who demands feedback from a team that is presently not giving it, will at best get watered-down evaluations or long overdue, pent-up frustration type answers.

Commit to the long game of modeling what you want to see your other team members produce.

 Ask yourself a few personal reflection questions:

·      “Why have I held back my honest opinion from this team?”

·      “What am I so afraid of hearing?”

·      “Do I equate my value with our perceived productivity?”

·      “Am I holding back my last 10% on this topic?”  

Our leadership team recently came back from an off-site retreat.

 It was some of the most raw, healthy and honest set of conversations I’ve been a part.

People were able to put their heart and soul on the table. We honestly shared with each other during a litany of emotionally-charged topics.

This was possible because a culture of honest feedback and loving confrontation had already been personally modeled by our senior pastor (@wadedhaskins).
It’s been said that the culture of an organization is the overgrown expression of the senior leader’s soul. That statement can be scary and exaggerated but it is largely true.  

A lack of feedback is rarely a structural issue, it’s almost always a soul issue.

Your internal self-talk will try to tell you to not step out and lead with vulnerability.

Your internal self-talk may tell you that…

·      You will appear weak.

·      You will lose credibility.

·      You will be the only one out on a limb and exposed.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Resist that lie. Don’t just listen to yourself, preach to yourself!

Your team members will respect you more. They’ll admire your courage and want to test it out for themselves.

If you want honest feedback on your team in a greater measure you are going to need to not just tell them the way, you are going to have to show them the way.


2.    Mine for it.

Author Patrick Lencioni, in his masterpiece manual, Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, explains an interesting reality.

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This may sound shocking but many teams are actually too polite.

This is especially true of many ministries and non profit organizations.

Now don’t get me wrong, honor is attractive in every culture, but political correctness and politeness has killed far too many creative meetings. A false sense of “politeness” pushing truth under the table every single time.

Lencioni explains how all too often a team’s attempt to stay so far away from destructive criticism and negativity actually swings the pendulum too far in the other direction making constructive criticism no longer a possibility.

Here’s a snap shot of Lencioni’s Conflict Continuum.

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Don’t settle for artificial harmony.

Walking on egg shells doesn’t help anyone.

Your mission and those waiting on the other side of your courageous vulnerability are worth it.
At the same time, don’t allow personal attacks, name-calling, fear or intimidation either. A team leader’s job is to mine for healthy conflict and clean up the mess if things tip over into unhealthy territory.

A sign of healthy teams is their ability to step over the line into destructive conflict-apologize, own the mess and move on together.

A sign of unhealthy teams is never having anyone come close to stepping over the line towards destructive conflict.

You’re not picking fights. You’re mining for the best ideas.

You’re not making room for bullies. You’re pressing for the best solution.

You’re refusing to lead meetings on auto-pilot or turn off your discernment. You’re reading body language and not allowing room for passive aggressive disengagement or apathy.

Tension can be uncomfortable for everyone. It’s painful but vital.

Protect it. Foster it. Feed it.

“Let the tension lead to intension.” -Leif Hetland  

Honesty breeds trust.

Trust fuels vulnerability.

Vulnerability fosters creativity.

Creativity stimulates productivity.  

This is pretty much a do-or-die issue for any team that is looking to do anything worthwhile.


3.    Make a move.



Coach Parcells makes a great point. In order to cook good meals (win, gain traction, be productive) you need the ability to pick the groceries (players, team members).

I received a brilliant strategy from Dr. David Ireland @drdavidireland on this topic. He was sharing this wisdom in a video interview with Patrick Lencioni, Bill Hybels, and Carly Fiorina during The Global Leadership Summit several years back.

David is a personal friend and I’ve watched his do this pretty masterfully over the years.

When a team member is underperforming you have 3 options:

·      Retrain them.

·      Reassign them.

·      Retire them.

As a Christian leader, my first resource and course of action is to pray.

I should ask God for wisdom on helping this person (and the team) by making some tough calls.

The very next step is to take personal responsibility.

Maybe I never trained or resourced them properly.

Maybe I never really laid out expectations clearly.

Maybe I have and my next move it to reassign them.

Try to find another seat on the bus if that’s possible and wise. See if you can keep them on the team in a different role. You’d be surprised how a change in role can sometimes help a person thrive.

One of the great privileges of being a leader is that we get to discover with people and not just decide for people.

There is a place where every person is made to thrive. If some of your team members are only surviving, it could be that some moves are needed.

Every person is uniquely designed and specifically gifted. That’s statement is more than just some encouragement a kindergarten teacher might give. It’s the absolute truth!

“Great leaders learn not to play checkers with chess pieces.” -Andy Stanley

We can’t treat people as if they are all the same. They are not. We can’t shuffle them around the “board” of our organization hoping to get amazing production from them if we have not properly placed them in a role they are gifted to function in.

If you can’t retrain them or reassign them, the most caring thing to do is to retire them. Release them to step into something more fitting and honestly, more fulfilling.

WARNING: If you delay in making this move, you run the risk of everyone growing resentment in their hearts. You. Them. Their spouse. Their co-workers and friends. Wherever there is offense, there you will find creative dramas playing out in everyone’s mind. Ask me how I know…LOL.

My next post will be on how to recognize the 4 phases of offense and drama. I think it’s going to be super helpful to you.

Whole volumes have been written on how to let people go with wisdom, generosity and care. The more you grow as a leader the better you get at navigating this process.

I will say though, it never gets easy. It shouldn’t. The moment it’s easy is the moment you are in jeopardy of not loving your team enough to earn the right to lead them.

You have to love them to lead them.

You have to value them to add value to them.

I hope this post helps you move the needle with your team and in your own soul.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. That’s why God chose you!



·      Which of our three ideas were most helpful to you?

·      What is a go-to question for you in meetings when you see your team leaning too far towards artificial harmony?

·      What area do you sense God challenging you to grow?

·      What are some of your favorite team-building resources or exercises?  

Joshua FinleyComment