This is our first in a series of articles about collaboration, or more specifically, ineffective collaboration. It’s a common problem our clients report that they want to improve upon, and one that we cover in practically every coaching journey we are on with a team.
At the heart of effective collaboration is trust. It is a foundation stone for the culture and code that teams work within and is absolutely vital if you are going to engage your team members and get them to make the choices necessary to do the work required to deliver on your goals. Without trust, you will not achieve the results you desire.
Trust – The Foundation Stone of Effective Teamwork
One of the simplest yet best models of high performing teamwork is Pat Lencioni’s ‘Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team’ pyramid. Read more HERE
We work with this all the time to illustrate how important trust is to the teams we work with. Like any pyramid, the base layer is the most important, and if you don’t get that in place, you can’t build the subsequent layers necessary to reach the top. In his model, trust is the foundation. If people don’t trust each other, they are unlikely to enter into open, honest conflict – and this means healthy, unfiltered passionate debate and discussions around topics, not toxic, destructive communication that is hurtful because it focuses more on people. If people don’t have that discussion (healthy conflict), they won’t commit to required actions and you can’t hold them accountable. If you can’t hold people accountable, then how are you going to reach the apex of the pyramid – results?
All of this though is entirely dependent on high levels of trust and an atmosphere of psychological safety – essentially where it is safe to speak up about anything that is happening.
Trust in Work Teams
What is trust then, in the context of work teams? It means that a team can rely on its people to deliver on what they say they will do. It is the ability to feel comfortable being vulnerable around your teammates. It is getting to know the people in your team, building relationships, understanding each other’s motivations and supporting each other. Without trust, teams leave themselves open to the probability of failure as well as ineffective or even poisonous team culture and ethos.
Without trust, teams are unlikely to reach their goals because people are hesitant, are not prepared to take risks or say how they truly feel and won’t commit to tasks or be proactive. Teams with low levels of trust are slow, cumbersome and lack creativity and innovation. They can also be teams that experience higher levels of stress and lower levels of mental and even physical wellness.
Trust & Collaboration
Trust is vital to working collaboratively. As humans, we are hard-wired to protect ourselves and those around us from harm. For millions of years, our existence was ruled by threat and danger, and our brains have evolved over that time to respond instantly to a perceived threat. What we didn’t know or what we couldn’t see was potentially harmful – the rustling in the bushes could be a sabre tooth tiger, and it was best to assume the stranger we meet on the path was an enemy rather than naively believing he is a friend. (You can read more about this in this article written by our COO, Andy Fieldhouse, HERE)
This hard-wiring is still within us and is a powerful and often subconscious driver. When working in a team with others, it manifests itself in our attitude to how likely we are to do something with or for others in our team or in other teams we are expected to connect with.
Collaboration requires us to do things in service of the team and for other people in the team. People are unlikely to make the choice to do this if they, therefore, don’t trust others on the team. We are after all, animals, with very strong emotional responses that come from deep within our animal brain – the amygdala – that is 40 times stronger and quicker than our conscious, human brain. If we don’t trust people, then this deep-seated, subconscious instinct not to collaborate with them will kick in. Building higher levels of trust are therefore vital to creating a more collaborative team.
Here are 6 ways that your team can build and maintain high levels of trust:
1. Don’t Marginalize the Difficult Voices
It’s tempting to shut down or marginalize the difficult or different voices in the team. Studies have shown that the patterns of communication within a team and creating equality of talking and listening across the team are more important than all other factors combined. (You can read more about this in this article, HERE). You have to let everyone speak and be prepared to listen.
2. Listen to the Voices in the Team
It’s important that you realise that every voice in the team is the voice of the team, no matter what that voice is saying. One of the founding principles of our coaching work is that we believe there is wisdom to what each voice is trying to say, even when expressed unskillfully, and that there is at least a 2% truth in everything that is said by each voice of the team, and they need to be heard in order to find that truth. This means setting up opportunities to specifically hear people – either in one to ones or group scenarios. A team that listens to the wisdom being expresses by each voice, is a team that is stronger for having heard more information, it can then make better choices and take different actions. Allowing people to speak and feel heard, increases safety and trust in the team
3. Work Through Conflict in a Healthy Way
In order to hear difficult voices does mean conflict. When we say conflict though, we mean healthy conflict as opposed to destructive, poisonous conflict. This doesn’t mean shouting, aggression, finger-pointing and avoidance. Teams need to learn how to have a healthy, respectful conflict where it can be intense without heat, where progress is made by staying in a rational, adult state. Try using the acronym CALM – Clear, Adult, Listening & Measured – to structure your communication when you have a hot topic or issue to discuss. Trust is increased by working through conflict, not by avoiding it.
4. Create Positivity in the Team
We know from many studies that creating positive interactions within teams is really important to developing trust. These need to outweigh any negative actions that take place, but you have to create a lot more positive interactions than negative – at least 5 positive to 1 negative, which can rise as high as 18:1 in very difficult situations. These positive actions can be simple things like asking how was someone’s weekend, giving praise in public for work well done, taking on a task from someone who is overloaded, and so on. Teams that focus on increasing positivity are more resilient in the face of conflict and change.
5. Be Vulnerable
It’s human nature to not want to be vulnerable. In our deeply instinctive, emotional brain, being vulnerable opens us up to the potential threat, which makes this hard to do. In a work setting, this might mean ridicule, judgement or blame which we, of course, want to avoid. Teams have to create an atmosphere where people are able to be vulnerable to admit a mistake, that they don’t know something or disagree with a course of action, safe in the knowledge that they will be treated with respect and not regret doing so.
One of the key steps in creating vulnerability is that this comes from the top of the team hierarchy. People look to the leader for an example of how to behave, and the leader has to be prepared to be vulnerable first so that the people in the team know it’s OK.
6. Be Reliable
We trust other people who are reliable and deliver on their promises. They say trust takes ages to build and a second to destroy. How this works is that you consistently do what you have committed to, on time, and you don’t let people down by not delivering on promises. If this is part of the DNA of the team, where they know it’s not OK to break a promise, then people will trust that things will get done.
If you would like to learn more about how to increase the trust and safety levels in your team, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.