New Insights on 3 Principles That Build a Collaborative Team

Cirque de Soleil Amaluna resized
Image: online source

“Oh man, I screw this up. I’m really sorry.”

“I’m not good at this, and can you teach me?”

Do you hear this often from people in your team? Or do you feel comfortable to acknowledge your mistake or weakness in front of your team members?

In my recent readings, I came across some refreshing concepts that gave me new insights about building a collaborative team. The concepts entail three key principles that sound simple but yet powerful for creating an effective collaborative team and cohesive organization culture.  The three principles are Respect, Trust, and Integrity. People often know them in a broad meaning and they often form the core values that many companies may adopt. But, let’s zoom in to see how they apply to actual workplace and translate to collaborative team culture.

1.     Respect – respect for people

Respect is one of common core values or principles in company’s values statements, though it sounds rather broad and nebulous. In Toyota Production System (TPS), Respect for People is one of principles which implies a deeper meaning such as humanizing the work and environment, improving productivity by doing things right at the first time (respect of own time), minimising wasteful work for your fellow colleagues or counterparts, developing people and their skills to perform the jobs, and having managers “walk the talk” through elimination of waste and continuous improvement in their own actions and decisions, etc.

toyota way
Image: online source

In the latest update of the Scrum Guide, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the creators of Scrum added the 5 values of Scrum, identifying  Respect to be one of them. In the scrum guide, it was pointed out that people commonly misunderstand Respect as “Thinking you are helping the team by being a hero”, when it should be “Helping people to learn the things that you are good at and not judging the things that others aren’t good at”.

In the recent 2016 HR Summit, keynote speaker Rachael Robertson, an Antarctic Expedition Leader acknowledged Respect as one of important principles that contributed to her team’s success while she led her expedition team of 10-odd people from various backgrounds and walks of life. In her team, it didn’t matter if they were a PhD Principle Software Engineer, a 60-year-old male veteran or a young female fresh graduate, everyone took turn to prepare meals and wash dishes every week. Likewise, this concept should also apply  to our organization- whether you are in a profit-generating sales/marketing position, or a back- office support /admin staff, everyone should be treated the same with respect and everyone should wash your own mug!

Some deeper implication in Scrum is the self-organizing team. In TPS, every employee on the assembly line has a responsibility to push a big red button that stops everything whenever they notice a defect on the assembly line. This responsibility and power to halt the process is not solely the Manager’s but everyone in the team. As such, this results in better product quality, higher employee engagement and greater sense of ownership toward problems and solutions in the long run. This practice supports a culture that encourages employees to stop and fix problems to get quality right from the first time.

2.     Trust – vulnerability based trust

As Patrick Lencioni describes in his book, “The Five Dysfunctions Of a Team”, it may sound obvious that trust should be a pertinent element of a collaborative team. However, the trust he emphasised was not the predictive trust that most people think about i.e. trust that is based on our past experience and is able to predict one another’s behaviour. Instead, what makes a team great is trust that is vulnerability based, that we can and will genuinely, humbly and safely apologise to other teammates when we have made a mistake, and seek their help to teach/guide us on how to do things better. In a team culture where everyone can feel safe to be vulnerable, and communicate openly and honestly with one another, it changes the team dynamic completely.

This sentiment is also shared by Ed Catmull in his book, Creativity Inc that “A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.”-  He wrote about the importance of candor in collaborating effectively in the creative process  and differentiated candor from honesty. He pointed out that honesty seems to be more of moral rightness, whereas candor is about courage and conviction. In Pixar, everyone is encouraged to speak their mind whenever they see a potential problem and one of key mechanisms is the Braintrust, where a group of people brainstorm, discuss and offer ideas/suggestions. People inside Braintrust does not have any power or authority over an outcome and it’s the Director of the film who will eventually decide an idea/suggestion is taken up and held accountable  for the outcome.

Pixar quote- trust
Image: online source

3.     Integrity – no triangles

No-triangles simply refers to “You don’t talk to me about her, and I don’t talk to you about him”. As Rachael Robertson said during her presentation at 2016 HR summit, “Go straight to the source. It will create conversations that are direct and address the issue in a timely manner.”

Recall some of your office conversation that goes, “Hey, you know, Andrew from Sales Dept said that you guys cannot solve a problem! The wifi issue has been going on for couple of weeks but yet it has not been fixed. Oh by the way, don’t tell him that I told you this.” Or “Boss, I just cannot work with Sammy anymore! She obviously got some attitude problem.”

What could be the intention of the person who is talking about others when this person is not talking to the subject concerned directly? Rachel reveals that when we create a “triangle”, we can potentially damage the trust inside the team including:

Image: online source
  1. You are telling the other person that you don’t have the courage to face them
  2. You are telling the other person that you don’t trust them to have an honest and open conversation
  3. You involve other people who may not really want to be involved in the first place
  4. There is a chance that your words can be repeated, out of context, which can compound the issue

Therefore, it is important to be conscious about having triangle conversations. When you face an issue or problem with someone, speak to the person directly instead of going through another third party. Generally people would be much more appreciative if they were to hear the message directly from you instead of a third party. Read more about “No Triangles” here.


These are simple terms that people probably already know but it is good to be reminded of how it plays out in our daily work context, its importance and implications, and put it to practice.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed”- Samuel Johnson



  1. Scaling Lean & Agile Development by Bas Vodde and Craig Laman
  2. The Toyota Way by Jeffery Liker
  3. Rachael Roberson- No Triangles
  4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  5. Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

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