During a team-building activity a few years ago, I asked my team members to break into groups and work on two drawings.
- The first drawing was to illustrate what it was like to work with people they trusted.
- The second drawing was to illustrate what it was like to work with someone who they did not trust.
It was an interesting activity because, even after focusing my attention on developing trust for a few years, some of my team members still did not trust each other. During the activity, some of these folks were on the same teams.
The activity culminated with the presentation of the drawings to the large group. We had many good illustrations of what it felt to work with people we trust or don’t trust and one specific drawing got my attention.
A project manager and a web developer drew a dollar sign on the “trust” side and a penny sign, on “no trust” side.
They simply described it as the following:
“When there is trust, the dollars flow, when there is no trust, the pennies trickle.”
On Dollars and Sense
This drawing captured the essence of the activity from a business perspective. If there is trust, your team will maximize its efficiency and the results will be superior.
If the team lacks trust, the team’s efficiency will be compromised, the results will be limited and, very often, inferior.
Some people question why developing trust is important.
Here are a few relevant questions for the skeptics:
- Is the level of cynicism in your organization high or low when managers speak? If so, why is that the case?
- Is there fear of retribution that causes you not to say what you think when you disagree with your management?
- Are you and your colleagues consistently motivated to do the best by working as a team? Or, is the culture one of cliques and silos that don’t work well together?’
Leveraging Strategic Advantage
Trust is a strategic advantage and managers who do not foster trust in their teams are hindering their teams’ ability to consistently deliver their best results.
Sadly, I see the opposite of trust development too often. Too many managers use their rank to intimidate and bully their staff.
The scary thing is that these managers are unaware of their actions and see themselves as good leaders.
Developing and maintaining trust is the most difficult area of management I have experienced. As I mentioned, some of my team members did not trust each other.
This is particularly revealing because it had been my stated goal to establish an atmosphere of honesty, transparency and trust since I started working for that team years before.
Seeing Your Blind Spots
One of the factors that made it so difficult to build trust was my inability to understand how my own actions were viewed by the team and how my blind spots were hindering my own ability to develop authentic trust with my staff.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to improve until months after taking a new assignment.
Stating my goal of establishing trust, conducting team activities, and introducing trust building materials to the team was only a start. I needed time for self-evaluation and reflection in order to change my behavior and lead others in the process of building trust.
Courageous honoring feedback from new and old staff helped me understand how I needed to change my overall leadership philosophy.
Only then was I able to start growing the organizational trust and using trust as a competitive advantage.
Recipe Not: Bullying
It took me years to figure out that I need to lead in the opposite way of what too many of us have experienced for years:
Bullying from the top
Sometimes the bullying is subtle and covert, other times it is blunt and in your face.
Unfortunately, I was good at both of these types of bullying. However, I was never as bad as some of the examples listed in this article about incivility in the workplace. These stories are scary but true!
It takes humility and willingness to admit mistakes to develop a culture of trust and safety.
Trust Maturity Model
To help managers and their teams, we developed the following infographic on the Trust Maturity Model.
As in other maturity models, the term “maturity” relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes, from ad hoc practices to active optimization of processes that enable trust.
The model can be used to identify the current organizational trust level and develop a plan to improve it.
Where does your organization rank in the model? Is your team struggling with chaos, learning and enabling, optimizing, or innovating? Let me know. I look forward to your comments!
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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders™
- Developing Trust in the Digital Workplace (cmswire.com)
- Team Building – Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Results (d4h.org)
- Why are Women So Mean to Each Other? (urbantimes.co)