Are you protecting your teammates?

Jan. 30, 2010

Trust is essential in today’s business world. Every day people talk about how important trust is, yet few know how to create it. Trust comes when people know they can count on you. Trust comes when people know you’re there for them. When people protect each other, there is trust — it’s that simple. When you’re committed to others and their well-being, you can expect an extraordinary commitment in return.

In the NBA, basketball players follow the concept of “sticking together.” They know that by protecting each other, working collaboratively, and standing united against the competition, their chances of winning are greatly increased.

In business, the only way you can do your job effectively, be creative, and be innovative is when you know that someone has your back. When you’re confident that someone is watching out for you, you’re more willing to take risks to increase the bottom line. Unfortunately, in most companies, people are just there to collect a paycheck. There’s no creativity, no innovation, and no risk-taking, all because there’s no sense of trust among team members. After all, if you know that no one is backing your ideas, why try to implement them? The chance of failing is too great.

The world of professional basketball offers the perfect learning example: In basketball, one person’s job is to guard the basket. As long as that person is doing his job, his teammates up the court can take risks and try to steal the ball from the other team. If they’re unsuccessful with the steal and the competition happens to get by them, they can count on the person guarding the basket to protect the team and keep the rival from scoring.

If the team members can’t count on each other, they’re not going to take risks. They’re going to play it safe. They’ll stay in front of their man, do their best to not let him score, and stay in a defensive mode rather than taking an offensive position and going for the score.

The same is true in business. People may have some good ideas, but they don’t voice them because they don’t feel protected. They don’t feel that sense of trust or appreciation, so they stay under the radar and do just enough to not get fired. They become clock watchers who only care about themselves and their own agenda. As a result, you have a company filled with people who know only how to complain and whine rather than take action and responsibility. Now you no longer have a team; you only have divisiveness.  

[PAGEBREAK]If you want people in your company to not only think of new ideas but also to execute them, then they need to feel supported. Protecting your teammates is a key ingredient in the NBA, because if you don’t have that trust, then things quickly fall apart. For businesses to succeed, they need the same mentality. If you want your company to grow, to change, to innovate, to succeed, and to rise to the top of your industry, then you can’t afford to have a bunch of people playing it safe. You need the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that comes when trust abounds.

So if you’re ready for your company to go from a “playing it safe” rookie to an innovative all-star champion, then consider the following suggestions.

1. Encourage your employees to step out and take risks.

What would it be like if everyone on your team truly felt safe? If you want to be invaluable, be the person people can count on. If you want to have enduring relationships, look out for others. Put others first. When you protect others, they take risks. They know they won’t be criticized should they fail. When you protect others, you create an environment of safety and freedom. That’s what supports innovation and the immediate response required in a world and market characterized by incessant change. When you protect others you sometimes give up an opportunity or put yourself on the line. But when you do that, you show people you care. Therefore, let people know that they have your trust and support, even if that’s not the prevalent culture. Remember that change has to start somewhere.

2. If you’re in management or a supervisory position, become a protector.

Encourage people to come to you with ideas. When you decide to implement one of the ideas, let your employees know that you completely support them. Win or lose, you’re there for them. If you must, think of your employees as your children. As a parent, your first priority is protecting your young. Just like children, adults do their best when they feel cared for and safe. So if you want peak performers, create an environment where everyone feels safe. The ideal manager is like the coach who stands up for his team. The ideal manager who creates an atmosphere of trust is really creating a space where people will exceed expectations.

[PAGEBREAK]3. Observe how behavior changes in the workplace with the implementation of this concept.

One glimpse of trust starts a wellspring of performance and confidence. Think about it... if your supervisor said to you, “That’s a great idea. Take this project on. You have my complete support,” how would you feel? You’d probably feel a sense of shock, and then a sense of eager anticipation. You’d be excited and quick to tell others on your team what just happened. Then your co-workers would think, “Wow. I have an idea, too. I want to talk to the boss about it.” So one simple gesture of trust can create a sense of energy and enthusiasm in the workplace, which is really what everyone wants. The more management communicates with their staff that they’re creating an environment of trust, the more ideas and innovation people will bring to the table.

The keys to performance and success

Trust and loyalty are what distinguishes a team from a group. They’re what make relationships irreplaceable and irresistible, and people invaluable. When you fight for another person and transcend your self-interest, you change the world.

Trust comes when people know they can count on you... that you’re there for them no matter what. When people protect each other, trust is inevitable. It’s that simple. When you commit to protecting others, you can expect an extraordinary commitment in return.

Trust sets people on fire. When you defend another, you find courage that you didn’t know you had. Fighting for someone else and doing more for others than you do for yourself brings out the best in yourself. And that’s where you find the win. It’s called the magic of teamwork.    ■

About the author: Mark Eaton is a technician at heart. He graduated from the Arizona Automotive Institute following high school, and worked at car dealerships and an independent tire dealership before the first of two dramatic career changes.

The 7-foot, 4-inch Eaton parlayed the persistence of a junior college basketball coach into a 12-year National Basketball Association career with the Utah Jazz, distinguishing himself as a defensive specialist. Since his retirement from the NBA in 1994, he has become an entrepreneur.

As CEO of LLC (, Eaton is a motivational speaker, and is working on a book about, as he puts it, “the extraordinary power of mentoring in sports and business.”