Building Trust in a Team in Times of Change

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Our Iceberg Is Melting" by John P. Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is teamwork so important when it comes to making changes in an organization? How do you build trust in a team?

In the fable Our Iceberg Is Melting, the main character, Fred, noticed that the iceberg his colony lives on is full of cracks and won’t survive the winter. He puts together a meeting to initiate change, but that’s only the first step when it comes to making major changes, The second step is to make a team.

Continue below to learn how to to build trust in a team, according to John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber.

Making a Successful Team

In the fable Our Iceberg Is Melting, the second step, after initiating the change, is to form a team to lead the change. In the story, the Leadership Council forms a team because nobody can solve this problem on their own. 

(Shortform note: When you need to solve major problems, working with others is crucial. So why do so many people try to go it alone? It may be due to a lack of trust: One study suggests that only 32% of leaders worldwide believe their teams have the ability to meet their goals. We’ll discuss how to develop trusting teams below.)

The Group

Once the Council had convinced most of the other penguins that something was wrong, Louis—as head of the Council—assembled a skilled and qualified team. Although every team member has weaknesses (such as a lack of knowledge or social skills), they all bring specific strengths to the team: One penguin has experience, one’s a good project manager, one’s particularly curious, one’s highly knowledgeable, and one has exceptional people skills. It would take all of them working together to find the answer to the colony’s problem.

How to Choose the Right Team Members

Louis assembled a skilled and qualified team, but qualifications weren’t the only factors he took into account. While skills and qualifications matter, team members’ personalities, values, and diverse experiences contribute to team success as well, and these can be hard to evaluate.

One CEO recommends starting the search by focusing on three essential factors: humility, experience, and the “then vs. now” factor: 

First, identify the people with humility. Humility is crucial to the teamwork mentality and prevents many problems common in teams: Thinking more about your own goals than those of the group.Infighting that results from the clashing egos of people who aren’t willing to prioritize the group’s needs.

The next step is trickier: Do you hire people with a lot of experience or less experienced people who are driven and may view problems from a fresh perspective? You need both:At the beginning of a major change, prioritize hiring team members who are driven— you need them when the pace is fast and there’s a lot to get done.After the dust has settled, you need a balance of both experienced members and less experienced members. Experienced members have likely guided organizations through change before and can competently direct growth; inexperienced members think outside the box and can keep the organization from settling into a rut.

Finally, you need people who can adapt over time to meet your team’s changing needs.In the early days of a major project, you need people who can stay flexible and work within changing guidelines—or no guidelines. As your project evolves and grows, you’ll naturally establish rules and best practices for your team. Therefore, you’ll need people who can accept those guidelines and work within them. The other option is to put people on your team who understand that they may be swapped out as the project proceeds and the team’s needs change. 


After choosing who he wanted on the team, Louis announced that he hoped that they’d all choose to help, but he wasn’t ordering them to work on the project. That was the first step toward turning this group of penguins into a real team—letting them all decide that they wanted to be there and building trust. 

Employee freedom and flexibility—such as the ability to choose whether or not to join a particular team—has a strong correlation with employee morale and job satisfaction, as well as company growth. For example, Valve (the company behind the online gaming platform Steam) credits much of its success to the autonomy that its workers enjoy. 

However, even once they’d all agreed to help, they found that they were having trouble working together. Each of them had a different vision, and different ideas of how to realize that vision. Therefore, the next step was a team-building exercise: a squid hunt. 

Building trust in a team is super important and team-building exercises can be valuable because they help team members learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and how to communicate effectively with one another. 

By giving a group an enjoyable and rewarding experience together, you can mold very different people into an effective team. 

How to Create Effective Team-Building Exercises

Many employees mock team-building activities as “forced fun” and a waste of time, but Louis shows that team building can be an important factor in getting individuals to work as one. Louis isn’t alone: According to some entrepreneurs, team building is one of the most important investments you can make as a leader.
Louis knew exactly what activity would engage his team, but where do you start if you’re not sure? Forbes contributor Brian Scudamore shares these four tips:

Leave work at the office. In other words, just let people enjoy themselves and bond; don’t try to force lessons about leadership or work ethic into the experience.

Try something new. An exciting new experience will create stronger memories—and stronger bonds—than a typical company retreat. For example, perhaps you could take your team to an escape room, or a Renaissance Faire. Invest in your team. A team-building activity isn’t just a gift; it’s an investment in your team’s future performance. Therefore, make sure to pick something that people will really enjoy, rather than just going for the cheapest option.

Keep up the enthusiasm. If your team-building activity is a one-time event that people forget about as soon as it’s over, then it won’t be very effective. Make sure to keep people’s energy high and their bonds strong while at work—for example, with a message board where people can share their goals and accomplishments (whether job-related or not). 
Building Trust in a Team in Times of Change

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of John P. Kotter and Holger Rathgeber's "Our Iceberg Is Melting" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Our Iceberg Is Melting summary :

  • A fable about the necessary steps in making major changes
  • Dr. John Kotter’s eight-step process for change
  • Why your job isn’t done just because you accomplished your goal

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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