This post first appeared as a guest post on Insurance Innovation Reporter in October 2013.
In a recent conversation, a CIO expressed frustration with the lack of collaboration and cohesion in his leadership team. “They are great at getting things done within their own teams,” he told me, “but really poor at working together as a leadership team. I’ve tried everything from performance appraisals to yelling but nothing works. I’m at a loss at what to do.”
This struck me as a fairly common problem in teams. We hire individuals and reward them – mostly – for individual behavior. Then we promote them into a team and wonder why they don’t perform as a unified collective.
Simply encouraging or cajoling a team to be more collaborative is never enough. The most fundamental prerequisite for cohesion is trust. Without it, collaboration will always be stilted at best within groups of individuals who are intended to be working as a team. A low level of trust impacts all forms of communication, and effective delegation in particular. It drives higher levels of stress and impacts both the quality and quantity of a team’s productivity.
Building trust is a slow process requiring openness and honesty – and trust needs to be built at personal and business levels. It is also fragile and can be damaged by negative interactions.
If we look for the reason for why trust is an important element of team collaboration, we need look no further than how our brains work. Neuroscience shows us that we make decisions using our reptilian or unconscious brain whose chief purpose is concerned with our survival. This reptilian brain is motivated by trust, has immensely strong inertia, and chooses safest choice that guarantees our survival. We like to think we are deeply rational beings that make decisions based on facts and logic but the research proves otherwise.
So how can you nurture and build the trust in your team? There are several ways to achieve this achieve this:
Consciously design and re-design the team dynamics. Teams focus heavily on getting things done often at the expense of the interpersonal relationships in the team. A lot remains unspoken. By having explicit conversations about team values, rules around conflict, and the working environment, you will create awareness about what is going on in the team.
Seek regular feedback. Create space for regular feedback on the team dynamics so people never wonder where they stand with you or their co-workers. Know that assumptions abound in human relationships and acknowledgement and feedback will counter the assumptions.
Get to know the person behind the professional. We are people first before we are employees. Allow a place for the team members to tell their personal stories. When new people join, ensure this is done again.
Embrace conflict. As uncomfortable as this is, and as unprepared most of us are to manage this, learn to embrace conflict in the team. Differences in perspectives will arise and it is through the airing of disagreements that new alignment can be found.
Embrace diversity. Every team has a contrarian, an outsider, an oddball or a misfit. Often we make it hard for this people to be heard or included. But we all have perspectives that are important to consider. Whilst groupthink may be comfortable and quick, it’s also the downfall of many great teams. Leverage the diversity in your team to counter this.
Allow for human error. We are fallible human beings. Create a spirit of openness and honesty where team members can openly admit their weaknesses and mistakes.
Trust is something often talked about but not something we spend much time on. Let’s start embracing the idea that team soft skills like trust warrant investment just like the rest of our operations.