As a young engineer I learned how to test the integrity of concrete by pressure testing. On large concrete pours (sometimes several feet thick) we needed to know if the concrete was strong, healthy and had integrity before we could erect the large heavy structures it was meant to support.
After the concrete had cured for the proper amount of time we would take a large cutting machine and extract a “core” of concrete. This was a cylinder about 4 inches in diameter and about one foot long. We would then take this core of concrete and place it in a large hydraulic press and slowly begin to build the pressure over time.
The pressures would build to enormous values before the concrete would “fail”. But the way concrete failed was always fascinating to me. It didn’t just break in half or fracture along a few fault lines, it would disintegrate. It almost exploded into thousands of small fragments. Each piece flying in its own direction so there was nothing left of this strong concrete core.
Teams Under Pressure
I have found teams to function in much the same way. The pressure can come from any number of sources but as you watch the pressure build the team holds together for a while but finally fails. And when the failure happens, it looks just like that solid core of concrete, it disintegrates. Each member seems to head for cover in their own direction.
In the concrete world, to counter this tendency to disintegrate when the pressure became too great we had a simple solution: reinforcing bar (sometimes called rebar). Those long rods of steel that we placed in a cage form within the walls of the concrete pour. Concrete is at its best under pressure from compression. What it lacks is tensile strength. Take your two hands and put together in front of you and start pushing one hand against the other. That’s compression. Now, have one hand clasp the other hand in a “hand shake” and start pulling them apart. That’s tensile strength. Concrete needs both to function well. So do teams.
Teams need a lot of tensile strength to withstand the pressures of today’s fast changing world and the fact that many of our teams are global and/or virtual. We need team rebar!
Increasing the tensile strength of a team requires the “rebar” of trust! If you’re not taking the time to build trust on your team, you’re not putting in the proper tensile strength to withstand today’s pressures.
- Who are these other people?
- Can I trust them when the pressure builds?
- Have I stood next to them, looked them in the eye and exchanged a hearty and caring hand shake?
- What are their values? Do we share values?
- How do I know what is motivating them? How will that play out when we’re experiencing pressure?
- And a ton of other reinforcing questions to be answered together.
Your team is faced with tasks that must be accomplished under tight deadlines and seemingly impossible pressure to perform. If you haven’t built in the tensile strength of trust, you’ll likely fail the task in the long run.