The first step to build trust, connection and team cohesion

High performing teams don’t just happen, they are built. It takes intention, time and a process to build trust, connection and cohesion. Laying the foundation for a high performing team to emerge and thrive is straightforward. The first step in the process is a commitment to understanding who we each are, how we show up on any given day and how that context drives our interactions and engagements. It starts with the awareness and acceptance that we are not different people when we walk through the door at work than we are outside of work. The context of our life outside of work impacts our work. The context of our work impacts our life outside of work. Honoring this allows us to fully show up and do our best.

To begin building a high performing team, we recommend the daily Checkin. In the short term, Checkins build awareness and empathy for each other. Over the long term, they build a trusting, connected and cohesive team that is the foundation for creating value.

RYG Handdrawn sheet 2.png

The daily Checkin sheet for the Techstars Boulder staff for a week in March 2017


Why: high performing teams cultivate psychological safety – the ability to see and be seen by others on the team for who we are, better understand how we show up at work everyday and how our behaviors are contextually driven – to build trust, connection and team cohesion.


  • Radical self-inquiry
  • Having empathy and caring for others on your team
  • Being authentic and vulnerable to bring together what is happening on the inside and outside

What: daily Red/Yellow/Green Checkin by everyone on the team sharing how they are doing personally and professionally (both and separately). Typically teams report individually right after their daily standup and use the colors below (and anything in between). It’s okay for people to opt out but it’s encouraged that everyone share every day. The depth of sharing is up to each individual, it could be as simple as stating the color you are personally and professionally or could include sharing a few details why they chose that color.

  • Green: I’m in a good place and I’m here and present.
  • Yellow: I’m here and present and there are things happening that are causing me some distractions
  • Red: I’m here physically but I’m not here. There are things happening for me that make it difficult for me to be fully present here.


My anecdote

My six month old baby was up all night. Maybe he was sick, maybe just hungry, it didn’t matter – I was tired. At 9am, I arrived at work, in the middle of week six of the Techstars Boulder thirteen week accelerator for high growth startups. Work was intense. 80+ hour weeks working closely with 13 passionate startups and a hundred mentors. Time was tight, energy important and it was not the time to be tired. But I was tired, and frustrated, and sad.

During our 9am daily Checkin, I reported being Red at home due to my lack of sleep and sadness that my baby wasn’t doing well. I reported being Yellow at work due to the demands and their related expectations and stress. Reporting that I was Red/Yellow meant I was physically there, but mentally not. By being open about how I showed up that day, our team jumped into action, a few shifted priorities, some team members jumped in to help with a few of my to-dos and I ultimately got home early enough to get a good night’s sleep and reset myself for the next day and the rest of the week. We all have goods days and days when we need to lean more on each other.  We bonded, they understood me and how I showed up, and we put another marble in our jar.

RYG Checkins

Daily Checkin sheet for Techstars Boulder staff in 2017

Presence not problem solving

Checkins are about about being there for each other, being seen and heard and a little better understood.  It provides context for how you show up on any given day. They aren’t about solving each other’s problems – there should be no advising, fixing, correcting, probing questions or helping – which can be hard to not do for entrepreneurs.

Basketball vs. golf

Checkins help a team work collaboratively together (baseketball) instead of independently working on a common task (golf). You show up as a better teammate because you know what’s going on with you, and your interactions will improve because you can empathetically tune your interactions with others because you know what’s going on in their world.

Marble Jar

Great teams are not built overnight. They are the result of hard work, and lots of authentic and vulnerable interactions – each a marble added to the jar symbolizing the relationship. A full jar is a high performing, cohesive, trusting, connected team. Withholds (see below) remove marbles from the jar.


Withholds are feelings, emotions, praise or conflict that is not shared with each other. Withholds are initially common on teams while trust is being built but the best way to move faster as a team is get them on the table as soon as possible. Remember that not saying a complement is also a withhold.

Leaders need to lead

Everyone on the team should participate in the Checkin, especially the leader. Leaders need to be Red/Red from time to time to model safety in being Red. If the leader is always Green/Green they won’t create the space and trust on the team for people to be authentic and vulnerable.

What to expect at the beginning?

Sharing emotions, feelings and praise or conflict may be hard at the beginning. Many people come from traditional backgrounds where sharing authentically and vulnerably can be perceived as weakness. They will find this especially challenging at the beginning and will manifest itself in lots of withholds (marbles removed from the marble jar). Over time, this will improve, especially if the leader models true authenticity and vulnerability. The consistent process of revealing our state bonds the team, removes withholds and builds connection and trust (marbles added to the marble jar).  

What to do when someone checks in as Red/Red?

When your teammate checks in as Red/Red (Red personally and Red professionally) you know there are significant things happening to them that is preventing them from fully showing up at work. It’s likely they will have a hard time meeting the normal expectations of their role during this period and it’s important to know this context when interacting with them at work. The natural inclination is to try to help, to ask for details, to solve the problem with them. This isn’t helpful unless they explicitly ask for help or share details. If you want to offer support, wait for them to ask for help or take them aside later in the day and tell them you are “not there to pry, but what help would they like?” This wording is critical, you are not asking how you can help them, that makes the question about you, not them. It’s okay for them to not answer, and if they do, you can help them figure out how to get the help they need.


For more complex Checkins, we’ll explore Niko-Nikos in another blog post where we incorporate emotional state and energy levels.



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