My own research and experience leading teams, as well as research that was done before me, showed that the best predictor of team performance, and specifically creativity and productivity, is the ability to conduct constructive conflict. The willingness to put everything on the table, argue passionately, not leave any stone unturned, and eventually reach consensus.
However, teams' ability to conduct such debate is rare these days. Driven by political correctness, liability concerns, and fear of the consequences of a debate that becomes personal and emotional, teams would rather avoid the debate altogether, and the biggest loser is your company.
The common theme for teams who can conduct such passionate, professional debate, is the existence of trust. Not just any trust, but the one that allows team members to be vulnerable and confident with each other at the same time. Vulnerable in their ability to say "I don't know," or "I'm sorry," or "I was wrong," and confidence in the ability to provide direct feedback and accept similar feedback without making it personal or taking it personally.
When I was a part of the executive team in a public Silicon Valley company, the head of HR used to facilitate a "hot seat" session once a month. The same two qualities (vulnerability and confidence) helped me (and the other members of the team) grow personally.
Where is this trust coming from?
As I laid out in a previous article, trust starts with respect. Respect for each other's competence and shared values. No trust will evolve without respect for those two.
However, the existence of that respect does not automatically build trust. You can respect other team members, and still not feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and confident with them. Over many years, and through my personal study of creativity in startups and mature companies, I learned that the amount and quality of time spent together could turn respect into trust faster. Spending a lot of time together would accelerate that transformation. Spending good time together will enhance it. Spending the time face-to-face would be better than over the phone, email, or even video conferencing.
And hence the big idea of this article. When possible, take road trips together. If you have to fly to visit a customer, book the same flights. Try to sit next to each other in the plane. Share the cab or rental car.
If at all possible (depending on the distance and your willingness), drive. During that road trip, try to avoid talking about work. Get to know each other better. Find out what you have in common. Tell each other the things very few people know about you. The more you know about each other, the better you are in understanding each other.
You will be amazed at how the respect you have for one another will increase, and transform into trust. That trust will allow your team to perform better.