In my experience when first asked the question about levels of trust and openness within a team, people can feel awkward about saying what they really believe. This results in an overestimation of how good things really are. So how can you become more informed? This may prompt the question, why does it matter? There are multiple reasons why this topic merits consideration. Quality of relationships, personal & team resilience and the quality of decision-making are just a few.
When you step back it’s a fair observation that trust and openness are a foundation of high-performing teams. That’s certainly my experience. Patrick Lencioni argued the case well in his excellent book the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust and openness will mean different things to different people. Perhaps that’s because the presence of it is an intangible thing. It’s not that surprising when you think about it, as it’s based on feelings and emotion. To help with an assessment it can be insightful to look for evidence of things that typically happen when trust and openness exists. Here are three areas that you could explore.
Area one – feedback to each other
When was the last time you gave feedback to each other? In high-performing environments feedback isn’t an event (like a 360 appraisal). It’s part of the way the team operates day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. To achieve this you need decent levels of trust. At the start, this can make some feel people uncomfortable. This can be about the process itself as well as the content. Consider using these two questions to get the ball rolling:
- What is one thing you value about a colleague?
- What is one thing they could adjust to increase their effectiveness?
Keeping question two positive and focusing on what you want and not what you don’t want can help get the recipient in a better frame of mind to take action. Use feedback and use it regularly to help break down that initial awkwardness.
Area 2 – knowledge of people in and out of the workplace
We are all human beings and as such internally, we are not wired to neatly split our professional and personal lives. It, therefore, surprises me when I work with a team who know very little about the lives of each other. The relationships that have developed can be very transactional. With little to no investment in understanding the person, you are interacting with. Some of you reading this may be thinking, “why would I need to, we’re too busy. It’s the responsibility of the other person to manage their lives”. I’d suggest there is a better balance that could be struck in many of teams I work with. Why not share something that others don’t know about you. You might just find that someone has a real challenge in their personal life that could explain their sometimes ‘erratic’ behaviour. Alternatively, you may find that you have skills or experience that the organisation lacks and are not being used.
Area 3 – ability to get decisions to stick
Very often decisions that ‘appear’ to get taken in meetings don’t stand up once people leave the room. A common cause for this can be linked to people not trusting the team to actually say what they really think and feel about situations. Creating an environment where people do feel like they can speak out can have a dramatic effect. This can take courage though. And real discipline from everyone to not shout people down when they have alternative points of view. Stepping back and asking as a team how comfortable people feel to speak out is an interesting exercise. Depersonalising the approach can have more effective results. For example, asking the question, how could we improve our team environment to draw out different views and opinions more effectively?
As a team, the three areas will give you more rounded indicators of trust and openness. Using a third-party to help facilitate the conversations can be beneficial too. The key characteristic is that this person is independent and people feel they can open up in front of them.
Have a go at assessing trust and openness in your team. As always I’m interested in how you get on.